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Couple Killed in Plane Crash Are Named

The two aboard the small aircraft that hit a house were Paul and Paula Tobias of Malibu, friends say. He had a psychology practice.

March 18, 2004|Richard Fausset and Eric Malnic | Times Staff Writers

The couple who died when their plane crashed into a home in Mar Vista were identified by friends Wednesday as Paul and Paula Tobias, 71 and 60, of Malibu.

The friends said the two had been returning from a skiing trip to Mammoth Mountain in the Sierra Nevada when the accident occurred Tuesday evening.

National Transportation Safety Board investigator Wayne Pollock said the pilot had aborted a landing approach in heavy fog at Santa Monica Municipal Airport, then circled at least twice before plunging into the home in the 3300 block of Mountain View Avenue.

The Los Angeles County corner's office said that both victims had been severely burned in the fire that followed the crash and that official identification would not be possible until today, when dental records became available.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday March 19, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction
Plane crash -- An article in Thursday's California section about the plane crash that killed Paul and Paula Tobias of Malibu incorrectly stated that he was a sculptor and painter. Paula was a sculptor and painter. Paul was a psychologist, as the story said.

Paul Tobias, a psychologist, had a private practice in Santa Monica, said Betsy Weinstein, 57, a friend from Beverly Hills. He was a sculptor and painter, she said.

The couple, who had no children, lived for years in the hills near the old Getty Museum.

Paul Tobias was an instrument-rated pilot and she also was a pilot, licensed to fly only when visual conditions were good.

Weinstein said the husband collected antique cameras. It was a hobby that sent the two traveling to conventions and camera shows around the country.

Weinstein said she had received a fax from Paula Tobias indicating that they would be skiing in Mammoth and would return Tuesday.

"It just seems like the wrong people seem to go sometimes," said Joan Crawford of Austin, Texas, an old family friend. "They made everyone around them happy."

The plane, which they had borrowed from a friend, left the airport at Mammoth Lakes about 3:30 p.m. and flew directly to the Los Angeles Basin, Pollock said. He said radio communications with air traffic controllers had been normal, and there had been no indications of problems.

Federal officials said Paul Tobias, who apparently was at the controls, began a seemingly normal instrument approach for a landing at Santa Monica Airport about 5 p.m., speaking by radio with air traffic controllers at the Southern California Approach Control Center near San Diego.

The NTSB said a heavy fog bank covered the airport at the time, reaching a level about 200 feet above the runway.

If a pilot cannot see the Santa Monica runway while still 500 feet above the ground, he is supposed to "fly a missed approach," aborting the landing attempt and flying a designated route before making another try.

On Tuesday, the pilot descended through the fog to about 500 feet, then leveled off, telling controllers he was executing a missed approach, the NTSB said.

But instead of flying the designated route, Tobias began to circle, Pollock said.

Several aviators said the pilot might have become disoriented in the fog and have circled in an attempt to pinpoint a navigational beacon that would tell him where he was.

Pollock said the plane climbed slowly to about 700 feet, then apparently plunged out of control, disappearing abruptly from controllers' radar screens.

Seconds later, it crashed into the house, bursting into flames and setting the building afire.

Investigators said there was no indication of engine failure. The homeowner, James Whiting, 57, was in the house but escaped injury. The house is on a ridge, several hundred yards southeast of the airport.

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