Pilot Killed in Civil Air Patrol Plane Crash and Fire in Pacoima Neighborhood

The plane crashed and burned on approach to nearby Whiteman Airport in the northern San Fernando Valley community.

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What to Know

  • A pilot was killed when a small plane crashed Thursday near homes in a Pacoima neighborhood.
  • The plane is part of the Civil Air Patrol, a nonprofit that assists the U.S. Government with emergency services and disaster relief.
  • No residents were injured in the crash and fire near Whiteman Airport.

The pilot of a Civil Air Patrol single-engine plane died Thursday when the aircraft crashed and caught fire near Whiteman Airport in Pacoima.

Firefighters were sent to the 10600 block of North Sutter Avenue at 11:44 a.m., according to the Los Angeles Fire Department. The Cessna 172 crashed just short of the runway on the west side of the airport, coming down near three residential buildings.

Security camera video showed the plane flying low over houses before it appeared to cart-wheel in a crash that ended in an explosion of flames in front of a house. At least two cars burned and debris was scattered in a yard.

One person is dead after a plane crash in Pacoima, Calif.

"Firefighters extinguished the flames engulfing at least two vehicles and the wreckage after (the) small aircraft went down in a residential area," the LAFD said in a statement. "The fire spread to trees and vegetation in front of a residential home, but firefighters navigated downed power lines and protected the home from sustaining any structural fire damage."

The pilot, not immediately identified, was the sole occupant of the aircraft, which crashed on final approach to Runway 12. No bystander injuries were reported, according to the LAFD.

Investigators sifted through the burned wreckage for clues as to why the plane crashed. Gordon Tokumatsu reports for the NBC4 News on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020.

The plane was owned by Civil Air Patrol, a nonprofit that assists the U.S. Government with emergency services and disaster relief.

One of the pilots said that the flight was for a training mission with the California Air National Guard.

Civil Air Patrol First Lt. Jerry Camp says that's one aspect of what the all-volunteer group does. He likens the group to a volunteer fire department.

A small plane crashed just outside of Whiteman Airport off Encinitas Road, setting multiple cars aflame near homes, Nov. 12, 2020. 

For more than 60 years the Civil Air Patrol, under a congressional charter, has been an auxillary wing to the US Air Force, promoting aviation education and offering emergency assistance for search and rescue teams.

Camp says those who join the entirely volunteer group are those who feel the responsibility to give back to their community.

"The men and women who serve with the civil air patrol are some of the most outstanding human beings I've ever met," Camp said.

In audio, the pilot is heard saying to an air traffic controller, "Whiteman tower CAP439, we've got a loss of engine power here. We're going to try and stretch it to the runway."

The tower responds, "Runway's clear and you are clear to land."

"Hopefully we'll make it," the pilot replied.

Los Angeles Department of Water and Power crews were sent to repair the downed power lines.

The crash will be investigated by the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board.

For hundreds of people who live close to Whiteman Airport, the day had started off normally enough.

"I was lying down," said Janet Torres, who then heard a tremendous explosion.

She ran outside to see plumes of black smoke, filling the sky near the north end of the property.

She says she knew what it was, right away. Crashes happen near the airport from time to time. It's an active landing zone for small aircraft. Dozens use the runway every day.

The crash sent flying chunks of burning debris toward a house on north Sutter Avenue.

Torres' friend lives in that house.

She said her friend was inside, with her grandson and two dogs.

She called Torres to tell her they'd escaped through a back door, thinking the house was going to burn down.

"She just fainted," Torres said.

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