A twin-engine airplane crashed into an empty field while trying to land at Fullerton Municipal Airport Saturday, killing the pilot and narrowly missing several nearby homes.
The Cessna Skymaster had taken off from Fullerton at 12:40 p.m. and was trying to return 20 minutes later when it appeared to lose power and slammed into the field in Buena Park, less than one mile from the runway.
"It was an awful sight. . . . I could hear the engine sputtering, and sputtering really hard, and then he just starting turning and turning in a downward motion. I thought he was doing tricks at first," said Alfredo Ulloa, who was working at the airport when the plane crashed.
Coroner's investigators were at the crash site Saturday evening. Investigators did not release the name of the plane's owner.
Although the pilot, whose name was not released, requested permission to return shortly after takeoff, he did not report engine trouble before the crash, said Howard Plagens, a National Transportation Safety Board investigator.
Employees in the Fullerton airport tower were watching the approaching plane and noticed the plane's landing gear was up. But before they could contact the pilot, the plane rolled to the right and went into a nose dive, Plagens said.
The plummeting aircraft narrowly missed several businesses on Commonwealth Avenue before crashing in a field near several homes. Some witnesses wondered whether the pilot maneuvered the plane to an unpopulated area to avoid further injuries.
"Some witnesses told us the pilot turned at the last minute and aimed at the spot," said Capt. Steve Miller of the Orange County Fire Authority.
The pilot did not submit a flight plan. It was unclear whether he intended to travel to another airport or was just out for a Saturday afternoon flight, officials said.
Because the plane caught fire and was severely damaged, investigators were unsure if any passengers might have accompanied the pilot on the flight. The Federal Aviation Administration and NTSB are investigating.