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Pilot Doing Aerial Stunts Injured When Plane Crashes : Flying: Ojai man who flew out of Santa Paula Airport was in fair condition, officials say, after being rescued by two men on a nearby ranch.

December 20, 1995|STEPHANIE BROMMER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A 52-year-old lawyer was injured Tuesday afternoon while performing stunt maneuvers when he crashed his biplane into a lemon orchard about a mile off California 126 between Santa Paula and Fillmore.

James L. Cunningham Sr. of Ojai was airlifted from the scene and admitted to Ventura County Medical Center in fair condition with a gash in his forehead, hospital officials said.

A licensed pilot who keeps his biplane at Santa Paula Airport, Cunningham had been practicing aerial acrobatics when his aircraft apparently lost power and came spiraling down, flattening two lemon trees, according to witnesses.

Paul Romero, who owns a ranch off Hall Road--where Cunningham crashed about 2:35 p.m.--said he had been chatting with a ranch worker when they noticed Cunningham's plane.

"We were talking about the planes that had been flying over us all day and Antonio said, 'Hey, this one's coming down,' " Romero said. "I looked over my shoulder and saw it 100 yards off the ground and going in a slow spiral. There was a high humming noise but no engine sound."

Romero and Antonio Alvarez immediately called 911 and headed down the road to the crash site. About 25 yards from a ranch road, they found Cunningham with a bloodied face inside the cockpit of his crumpled blue and white plane.

The two men pulled the moaning Cunningham out of the vintage aircraft and took him to a pickup truck, driving him down Hall Road until they met up with the ambulance.

"We just got him out of there and he's safe, that's what counts," said Romero, his plaid flannel shirt and jeans bloodied. "He was conscious but not coherent. He kept saying, 'Who did I hit?' and insisted on going to the hospital."

Romero said that Cunningham was unable to tell him what day it was or how old he was when questioned.

The front end of the single-engine, two-seater biplane was crushed and the wings askew.

The Federal Aviation Administration and National Safety Transportation Board are expected to investigate the accident today, Ventura County sheriff's deputies said.

The ranch land between Santa Paula and Fillmore is a popular location for stunt flying and is zoned for the activity, residents said.

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