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Early Morning Crash Kills Pilot, Jams Santa Ana Canyon Commute

Family members say aviator was a Temecula man. Power lines are cut over the Riverside Freeway, but no outages are reported.

November 09, 2002|Mai Tran | Times Staff Writer

A small plane slammed into a hill in Anaheim early Friday, killing the pilot, snapping power lines and snarling the morning commute on the Riverside Freeway.

Authorities did not immediately identify the man found in the wreckage of the single-engine Cessna 150E, but family members identified him as Dennis Beitel of Temecula, a licensed pilot qualified to fly in bad weather. Coroner's officials said they may have to use fingerprints to make an official identification.

The burgundy-and-white plane was spotted about 4:40 a.m. by a motorist who reported seeing the low-flying craft pass over the westbound lanes of the freeway at Gypsum Canyon Road. Seconds later, the driver said he saw sparks light up the predawn sky.

Rescue crews and firefighters searched in the rain and thick fog, but could not find the wreckage in the darkness, said California Highway Patrol Officer Katrina Lundgren.

At daylight, searchers found the crumpled plane about two miles from where the motorist reported it. The plane, which was folded into a crevice in the hillside about 50 feet above the freeway, was visible to motorists and slowed traffic to a crawl for hours.

Investigators said the pilot was flying alone from Temecula to the Fullerton Municipal Airport, generally following the path of the Riverside Freeway when the plane clipped the power lines.

The pilot lost control and hit a hill near Coal Canyon Road, said Maria Sabol, spokeswoman for the Anaheim Fire Department.

A chunk of the aircraft was found on the right shoulder of the freeway. Investigators have not determined what caused the crash.

The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration are investigating and will inspect the wreckage next week after the plane is trucked to a facility near Palmdale.

Pilots are required to use instruments when visibility is less than three miles and cloud cover is less than 1,000 feet. At the time of the crash, it was raining, cloudy and winds were blowing at 11 mph, forecasters said. Visibility was 1 1/2 miles and the cloud cover was at 800 feet, said Noel Isla, a forecaster with the National Weather Service.

Southern California Edison crews were repairing and replacing transmission lines still dangling above the freeway late Friday. Crews planned to close the freeway early this morning to complete their repairs.

The crash caused no electrical outages, although lights flickered in Corona about the time of the crash, said Steven Conroy, spokesman for Southern California Edison.

According to records, Brenda Benbow of Temecula purchased the plane in 1999. Family members said that Beitel, who holds a commercial pilot's license and was instrument rated, was the pilot.

"He was a very good man," said his daughter, Stacey Beitel, "and he loved to fly."


Times staff writer Scott Martelle contributed to this report.

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