Small plane crashes on 405 Freeway near John Wayne Airport; 2 hospitalized

LOS ANGELES — A small plane has crashed on the southbound 405 Freeway near John Wayne Airport on Friday morning, leaving two people injured, sending smoke billowing above Orange County and forcing the closure of the freeway in both directions.

Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Larry Kurtz said the plane had crashed and two people in their early 60s were hospitalized with traumatic injuries. Both patients “had vitals” when they were removed from the plane, he said.

A man runs toward the wreckage of a plane on the 405 Freeway on June 30, 2017. (Credit: Nga Dieu)

The plane’s occupants were pulled from the wreckage by an off-duty firefighter from Avalon on Catalina Island, Kurtz said.

“The fact that nobody else was injured was very fortuitous,” Kurtz said.

It’s not clear what caused the plane to crash, he said.

A preliminary statement from a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman indicated the twin-engine Cessna 310 “crashed under unknown circumstances” short of Runway 20R as the aircraft was inbound to John Wayne Airport. The plane had taken off from John Wayne, declared an emergency shortly thereafter and was trying to return when the crash occurred.

In a online recording of air traffic control radio communications,  the pilot can be heard crying “Mayday, Mayday,” explaining that he is trying to get more altitude and had “lost my right engine.”

Two people were on board, the FAA spokesman confirmed.

The plane’s wreckage was on the southbound freeway near the MacArthur Boulevard exit, on the path that aircraft follow when landing at the airport.

The Cessna 310 aircraft “landed” on the freeway short of the runway at 9:35 a.m, the airport tweeted.  The airfield was temporarily closed to arrivals, but departures were not affected.

The wreckage of a plane that crashed on the 405 Freeway in Santa Ana on June 30, 2017, is shown. (Credit: KTLA)

Video recorded from a vehicle on the freeway showed black smoke billowing from the wreckage, with flames rising in the area of the center divider. Debris was all over the freeway, and bystanders could be seen stopping to help two people, at least one of whom was lying on the freeway pavement.

Kurtz indicated no other vehicles on the freeway were struck, but an Uber driver said his pickup truck was hit.

“I was struck by this Cessna … by the rear end of my truck, was spun around, had a passenger in there. Saw flames all around us,” Blackstone Hamilton told a freelance news photographer. “At the end of that, checked my passenger, made sure he was OK and gave each other a hug – that we were still alive.”

Hamilton’s blue Toyota Tacoma was left at the side of the ridge, severely damaged.

The plane’s wreckage will likely not be moved until is can be examined by federal investigators, he said.

“Right now this aircraft’s home is going to be here on the southbound 405 … for a little while,” Kurtz said.

A plane crash on the 405 Freeway on June 30, 2017, is shown. (Credit: OnScene.TV)

Northbound lanes largely reopened after a temporary closure; one lane of southbound traffic was getting by on the shoulder as of late morning.

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board were set to investigate the crash.

The investigation means likely severe traffic congestions in the area in the lead-up to the three-day Fourth of July holiday weekend.

The FAA record for the plane’s tail number indicated it was a 1975 fixed-wing Cessna 310R registered to a Santa Ana company called Twin Props.

Check back for updates on this developing story.