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2 World War II-era planes collide off the coast

One pilot returns safely to the Torrance airport and the other lands on the San Pedro shoreline.

February 04, 2007|Greg Krikorian | Times Staff Writer

The pilots of two World War II-era aircraft escaped serious injury or death Saturday afternoon when their biplanes collided about a mile off the coast of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, authorities said.

The midair accident occurred about 3 p.m. when the propeller of a 1942 Boeing Stearman apparently clipped the back side of a 1940 Waco not long after it and a third vintage plane left Torrance Municipal Airport, officials said.

After the planes made contact, pilot Harry Haggard landed his Stearman without incident at the airport, where Torrance fire crews were dispatched for a possible emergency landing, said fire Capt. Jason Dobine.

The Waco's pilot, Ralph Baxter, meantime, guided his plane to a shoreline landing in shallow waters off the Cabrillo Beach breakwater in San Pedro, said Los Angeles Fire Department spokeswoman Melissa Kelley.

The plane, she said, flipped over when one of its wings struck the sand, but it did not catch fire.

Baxter, 82, and Haggard, whose age was not available, are both Palos Verdes Peninsula residents.

Los Angeles County lifeguards were the first to reach Baxter, a former airline pilot, and helped free him from the aircraft, although he was strong enough to walk to shore, Kelley said. Despite the accident, she said, he emerged from the plane "basically unscathed."

Baxter was taken to Little Company of Mary San Pedro Hospital, where he was treated for minor injuries. He was released Saturday night.

Although neither aircraft was severely damaged, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration said the Stearman had damage to its propeller and the Waco to its tail.

The cause of the accident was under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The possibility that the accident could have been much worse was evident in the response of emergency crews from the Coast Guard as well as the city and county fire departments.

The city Fire Department dispatched two helicopters, three boats and several ground crews to the incident, Kelley said.

After the accident, the third pilot, whose name and age were not available, circled the area to help guide rescue crews, said Dobine, the Torrance fire captain.

"These guys all know each other," he said. "There is a group of them who have been friends for years."

Indeed, Dobine said, when fire crews arrived, Haggard and others were anxiously awaiting word at the Torrance airport about what had happened to Baxter and his biplane

"When the word came back from the tower that their friend was OK, they all were cheering," Dobine said.

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