A man who landed a vintage plane on the Ventura (101) Freeway in Agoura Hills without injuring anyone is being hailed by the group that owned the aircraft as “a very qualified professional pilot with many thousands of hours of experience,” while it remains unclear what caused the failure of an engine with less than 700 hours of flying time.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the fiery non-injury crash in the center divider of the freeway about 1:45 p.m. last Tuesday.
The forced landing near Liberty Canyon Road occurred after Robert Sandberg, 43, of Camarillo, issued a mayday when his engine lost power.
“It is his skill that avoided a much more catastrophic outcome,” said Chris Rushing, president of the Van Nuys-based Condor Squadron, which owns the plane. The nonprofit group was founded in 1965 by a group of World War II fighter pilots.
Sandberg, the plane’s lone occupant, said he picked a spot on the freeway where there were few vehicles.
“I was able to, fortunately, not hurt anybody, other than the airplane,” he told ABC7.
The crash shut down both sides of the freeway for hours, creating a miles-long traffic backup.
No vehicles were involved and Sandberg was uninjured, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department, which doused the flaming wreckage. A good Samaritan helped Sandberg from the downed airplane, which was painted gray and had World War II-era German markings.
Sandberg works for Alaska Airlines, KCAL9 previously reported.
The plane was a North American AT-6/SNJ, according to the Condor Squadron. The FAA identified it as an SNJ-5 variant of the AT-6.
The aircraft, which took off from Van Nuys Airport on a proficiency flight, sustained substantial damage, primarily from the fire that erupted after the crash and burned away much of the fuselage.
According to the Condor Squadron, AT-6 aircraft were produced between 1935 and the late 1950s. The plane involved in last week’s forced landing “was given it’s airworthiness certificate in 1958,” Rushing said.
“It has been extensively rebuilt over the years, with components continually replaced, refurbished and overhauled,” he said. “The engine that failed was installed in 2011 and had less than 700 hours since it was replaced. In the interest of constantly improving aviation safety, the NTSB is currently investigating the cause of the failure.”
According to its website, the Condor Squadron operates military aircraft museums at the Van Nuys Airport and in Burbank, and flies restored aircraft at parades and memorial events honoring veterans.
The AT-6 has been used to simulate aircraft such as the Japanese Zero and German FW 190 and the Condor Squadron’s planes “were used in airshows with dog-fight reenactments,” Rushing said.
“Some of our AT-6 planes were painted to simulate the FW 190,” he said.
CHP Capt. Johnny Starling said that after Sandberg took from Van Nuys, he heard some loud pops from the engine that then lost power. Starling said Sandberg suffered only some singed hair from the resulting fire.
It was the second time in five days a plane had landed on a Southern California freeway. A Piper PA-28-161 Cherokee lost power on Oct. 19 and a student pilot made a safe emergency landing amid late-morning traffic on Interstate 8 in El Cajon, in San Diego County.
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