Fiery plane crash on Interstate 405 near John Wayne Airport - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Fiery plane crash on Interstate 405 near John Wayne Airport

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SANTA ANA (CNS) - A Cessna with engine problems crash-landed on the San Diego (405) Freeway near John Wayne Airport Friday and burst into flames while
trying to return to the airport, leaving the pilot and his passenger hospitalized in critical condition.

The plane crashed onto the most heavily traveled freeway in the nation at 9:35 a.m., causing an hours-long traffic nightmare at the outset of the Fourth of July weekend. However, there were no casualties on the ground.

The plane struck the center divider wall and caught fire before hitting the right wall on the southbound side, just north of MacArthur Boulevard, according to California Highway Patrol Cmdr. Ryan Shackleford.

Shackleford said three vehicles either struck the Cessna or parts of it on the southbound portion of the freeway and one vehicle struck some landing gear on the northbound portion, but no injuries resulted.

An Uber driver and his passenger had a close call when the man's pickup truck was clipped on the left rear side, causing it to spin out, as did an off-duty fire captain who was the first to reach the injured pilot and his wife.

His car hood was scraped by one of the Cessna's wings.

Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Larry Kurtz noted it could have been a multi-casualty situation.

"You know as well as I do know all the traffic problems on the 405 no matter where you are, and for a plane to actually land on the freeway and only clip one vehicle is extraordinary, and the fact that the person in the vehicle also was pretty much uninjured is also extraordinary,'' Kurtz told reporters.

"I talked to the individual (in the truck) and he said it definitely was a shock to him to suddenly see a plane on the freeway. But the great thing is that ... right now all we have is a plane on the freeway.''

The Uber driver, Blackstone Hamilton, calmly relayed his close call when interviewed by reporters at the scene. He said that as his truck spun around, he and his passenger "had flames all around us (and) thought at first it was just a big rig that hit us.

"Essentially (I) tried to regain control of my vehicle, checked my passenger to make sure he was OK, (then we) gave each other a hug that we were
still alive.''

The pilot of the Cessna 310 radioed that he had lost one of his engines just after takeoff and then made a frantic mayday call to air traffic controllers seconds before the plane came down on the southbound lanes, north of the MacArthur Boulevard exit.

We got a mayday! We got a mayday! ... I can't make it back to the airport,'' he could be heard saying.

The 62-year-old pilot and his passenger, a 55-year-old woman, "both had critical, traumatic injuries'' but "had good vitals when they were moved from the aircraft,'' Kurtz said.

They were conscious when taken to Orange County Global Medical Center in Santa Ana, he said. Their names were not immediately released.

The passenger was out of the plane, trying to aid the pilot, when John Meffert, an off-duty fire captain from Avalon on Catalina Island, came to their aid. First-responders arrived soon afterward and doused the flames using foam.

The pilot of the six-seater plane -- registered to Twin Props 87297LLC and based out of Santa Ana -- was trying to return to the airport with a crippled right engine minutes after takeoff when it crashed on the southbound lanes of the freeway about 1,000 feet short of Runway 20-R, according to Ian Gregor of the Federal Aviation Administration.

The airport was closed to arrivals from 9:36 a.m. to 10:14 a.m., but there were minimal disruptions to flights, according to John Wayne Airport Director Barry Rondinella, who said a handful of incoming flights were briefly diverted.

It was another story on the freeway, which was completely closed in both directions after the crash, creating a miles-long backup and gridlock on surrounding surface streets.

At one point, traffic was backed up for nine miles in the southbound lanes, said CHP Officer Agustin Latosquin. All northbound lanes were reopened by about 3:30 p.m., but all southbound lanes remained closed until about 4:45 p.m., when the carpool and far left main lane reopened.

Orange County Global Medical Center spokesman Jeff Corless said tonight that one of the patients was in a stable condition and the other was stable but guarded.

Both are expected survive, he said.

The National Transportation Safety Board and the FAA, as well as the CHP, gathered evidence at the crash scene before removing the plane.

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