IRVINE (CBSLA.com) — Two people have been hospitalized with major injuries after a plane crashed on the southbound 405 Freeway north of MacArthur Boulevard in Irvine, just after taking off from John Wayne Airport.
The Cessna 310 crash landed on the northbound lanes just after 9:30 a.m. and burst into flames. The 405 Freeway was initially closed in both directions at MacArthur due to debris on the roadway.
A statement from the FAA said that the pilot declared an emergency shortly after taking off from John Wayne Airport and was trying to return to the airport. An audio recording indicates the emergency was due to the plane’s right engine going out.
According to the California Highway Patrol, the plane crashed into the center divider of the freeway, then caught fire before it struck the wall on the southbound side. Three vehicles going south on the freeway struck the plane or a part of it, while a vehicle going north struck the plane’s landing gear, CHP Commander Ryan Shackleford said at a news conference.
CHP officers at the scene said one of the vehicles that clipped the plane was driven by an off-duty Avalon fire captain.
The two people on board the plane, a man and a woman said to be in their 50s and 60s, were conscious immediately after the crash. John Wayne Airport spokeswoman Deanne Thompson said they both survived the crash and have been taken to a Orange County Global Medical Center with major injuries.
“Information that we have is that their injuries were not life threatening and they were transported to hospitals,” she said.
The captain, who was not injured, helped pull the victims out of the plane.
“Right after the collision, the female was already out of the airplane, attempting to remove the male,” CHP Officer Paul Fox said.
“Both of them did have good vital signs when we were transporting them to the hospital,” Orange County Fire Capt. Larry Kurtz said.
Thompson said she was not aware of any injuries on the ground. A pickup truck was clipped by the plane as it crashed onto the freeway, but the Uber driver and his passenger came away with just a bruised elbow.
“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 said at the afternoon news conference. “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 no other vehicle was involved and right now all we have is a plane on the freeway.”
John Wayne Airport was closed to arrivals in the aftermath of the crash, but was reopened to arrival traffic just before 10:30 a.m..
The plane has a tail number N87297 and is registered to Twin Props 87297LLC, based out of Santa Ana.
Miles Madison said he was driving near the airport and witnessed the crash.
“While I was driving nearby the airport on Red Hill, I heard an urgent call that came across the air traffic control frequencies by a pilot. It was very urgent. You can hear his voice crackling. He says, ‘May Day.’ From that point on the air traffic controller very calmly takes over,” Madison said.
The unusual sight made him stop his car on an overpass and get out with his camera.
“I see the aircraft in a position that’s not normal, he’s actually perpendicular to the runway, as if he missed the approach and took an abort to the right,” Madison said.
The crash happened Friday morning, just as the Fourth of July holiday travel rush is getting underway.
The southbound 405 Freeway closed at the northbound 55 Freeway, and traffic was routed onto the northbound 55. The freeway reopened fully in both directions shortly before 5 p.m.
The crash of the small plane caused many big headaches for drivers and people trying to make flights.
CBS 2’s Jeff Nguyen reports some drivers stayed put while their passengers grabbed suitcases and walked to the airport.
Sunder Mandayan said it was tense in his vehicle as he was supposed to be dropping his aunt off for a trip.
“She didn’t say anything, but I was worried that that I might get delayed,” Mandayan said.
Take-offs were affected for about five minutes. Arrivals were affected for less than an hour — nine flights ended up being diverted.