A 44-year-old Camarillo man died Thursday morning after his ultra-light airplane crashed in strawberry fields at the far end of Camarillo Airport.
The crash occurred as Gregory Jones, a self-employed house painter and recently licensed pilot, was practicing a midair stall maneuver, said Dana Hoover, who was flying nearby. Jones' plane hit the ground upside-down.
Jones suffered head and chest injuries and was dead by the time Ventura County sheriff's deputies arrived, a sheriff's spokesman said. Jones is survived by his wife and six children, coroner's investigator Dale Zentzis said.
According to friends, Jones was an enthusiastic ultra-light pilot who had begun taking flying lessons in January and soloed just three weeks ago. He was licensed by the Ventura County Ultralight Aircraft Society, which has about 75 members, said Ken Holden, president of the group.
An ultra-light airplane is often described as a hang glider with a motor on it.
Single-seat ultra-lights, such as the one Jones was flying, weigh less than 254 pounds, travel not more than 63 m.p.h. and carry about five gallons of gas.
The Federal Aviation Administration does not regulate such ultra-light planes, said FAA investigator Mike Woodward, and neither the FAA nor the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate Thursday's crash.
Patrick McGonigle, a crop-duster and member of the Ultralight Aircraft Society, saw the accident and helped salvage the plane.
"There were no structural errors that we could detect on the plane, and we can't find a reason for the crash," he said.
Jones and Hoover had flown Wednesday with no problems, Hoover said.
On Thursday morning, the two had planned to fly to Ojai "just because it's a pretty ride, with all the soft hills and rolling valleys," said Hoover, 40, of Ventura.
"Visibility was good and the conditions had nothing to do with the accident," Holden said.
The sky was slightly overcast but "there was no glare from the sun, and no wind, which made it a beautiful day for flying," Hoover said.
Jones' accident occurred about 8:15 a.m., shortly after the two men took off from the ultra-light airplane field at the southeast end of Camarillo Airport.
Jones began the stall maneuver, in which he flew his plane 300 feet up at a 45-degree angle until the aircraft's weight slowed its engine speed and the plane began to stall.
In a successful maneuver, the aircraft then dips down softly, right side up, in a rocking motion, Hoover said.
But Hoover, who was flying to the left of Jones, said he looked over and "I saw that his aircraft was inverted, upside down, and heading for earth at a rate of 50 m.p.h. I shouted over the radio for him to pull his (parachute), but I got no response." The parachute could have saved Jones' life, Hoover said.
Jones' plane crashed near Rose and Central avenues.
Jones was flying a Quicksilver MX model ultra-light aircraft, which is assembled from a manufacturer's kit, Holden said. He added that it is one of the more popular ultra-light models.
No funeral arrangements have been announced.
"Greg was a family man who was always doing things with his kids," Hoover said. "I never heard him say anything ill about anyone, and he loved ultra-light flying."