Investigators with the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board Wednesday were looking into the circumstances that led to the fiery crash of a vintage aircraft in the center divider of the Ventura (101) Freeway in Agoura Hills.
The crash, which was reported about 1:45 p.m. Tuesday near Liberty Canyon Road, occurred after the pilot, identified as Robert Sandberg, 43, of Camarillo, issued a mayday when his engine lost power.
“I picked a spot on the freeway where I knew there was a big section of cars that weren’t there, but the engine completely failed,” Sandberg told ABC7. “I was able to, fortunately, not hurt anybody, other than the airplane.”
The crash shut down both sides of the freeway, creating a miles-long traffic backup before one lane of northbound traffic and two southbound lanes of the 101 Freeway were reopened around 5 p.m.
No vehicles were involved and Sandberg was uninjured, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department, which responded and doused the flaming wreckage. A good Samaritan helped Sandberg from the downed airplane, according to the California Highway Patrol.
Sandberg works for Alaska Airlines, KCAL9 reported.
The plane was a North American AT-6, according to the aircraft’s owner, the Van Nuys-based Condor Squadron, a nonprofit group founded in 1965 by a group of World War II fighter pilots. The FAA identified it as an SNJ-5 variant of the AT-6.
The aircraft, which had German World War II-era markings, sustained substantial damage, primarily from the fire that erupted after the crash and burned away much of the fuselage.
Condor Squadron spokesman Chris Rushing said Sandberg took off from Van Nuys Airport on a proficiency flight to sharpen his piloting skills.
According to its website, the Condor Squadron operates military aircraft museums at the Van Nuys Airport and in Burbank, and it flies restored aircraft at parades and memorial events honoring veterans.
The group issued a statement thanking first responders for their quick action, and saying the organization is cooperating with the crash investigation.
CHP Capt. Johnny Starling said Sandberg took off from Van Nuys Airport, but eventually heard some loud pops from the engine and then lost power. Starling said Sandberg suffered only some singed hair from the resulting fire.
This is the second time in five days a plane has landed on a Southern California freeway. A Piper PA-28-161 Cherokee lost power Friday and a student pilot made a safe emergency landing amid late-morning traffic on Interstate 8 in El Cajon.