RIVERSIDE — A pilot was killed Monday afternoon in the high desert of San Bernardino County when he tried to make an emergency landing on Interstate 40 but crashed his small private plane into three vehicles, authorities said.
The pilot, whose identity was not released, may have been headed toward Los Angeles, officials said.
Two people were injured on the ground, including a woman who was flown by helicopter to Desert Hospital in Palm Springs, said California Highway Patrol Officer Mitch Cox.
The crash created chaos on a normally desolate stretch of Interstate 40, about 35 miles east of Barstow and 125 miles northeast of Los Angeles. Debris still littered the highway Monday evening, and a westbound lane remained closed.
Authorities have not yet determined where the plane took off. Witnesses told investigators they first saw it about 1 p.m., fluttering south about 50 feet off the ground. Then, they said, it listed briefly, until it was parallel with the road.
The pilot apparently tried to land on the highway, but his wheels clipped a sport utility vehicle. The plane then landed on the bed of a pickup truck and sheared off its roof.
The aircraft cartwheeled from there, breaking into pieces that struck at least one car.
"It looked like he tried to land on the freeway, but he didn't make it," Cox said.
The pilot was pronounced dead at the scene. The injured woman had been riding in the pickup truck.
The accident occurred near Newberry Springs in the Mojave Desert.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Jerry Snyder said the pilot radioed Los Angeles air traffic controllers shortly before the crash and told them he was having trouble with his plane's oil pressure.
Once he ran into trouble, the pilot may have been trying to make it to Barstow-Daggett Airport, a small field used primarily by the Army's sprawling desert training center at nearby Ft. Irwin, Cox said.
Airport employee Alan Hamm, who monitors radio traffic with area pilots, said he received no transmissions from the plane. The airport does not have a control tower, but pilots landing there check in by radio.
"I thought it was strange that I didn't hear anything," Hamm said. "I would have heard something, at least a Mayday."
The National Transportation Safety Board will now take over the investigation, Snyder said.