The coroner’s office Tuesday formally identified a veteran pilot who was killed when his homemade airplane crashed near the northbound Antelope Valley (14) Freeway at Newhall Avenue in Santa Clarita.

Wayne Richards, 73, of Van Nuys, died at scene of the fiery crash that occurred about 10 a.m. Saturday. He was the sole occupant inside the single-engine aircraft.

Several aviation publications said Richards had been flying since the mid-1970s, was based at Van Nuys Airport and had more than 4,000 hours of flying time in aircraft similar to the one that crashed.

Jennifer Pearl, one of the pilot’s friends, told reporters she heard his distress call, which was later posted on Twitter, where he can be heard complaining of visibility problems in the plane immediately prior to the crash.

Pearl described him as a “sweet and loving man” who was very active in the aviation community, and said his death was a “big loss.”

The plane crashed about five miles north of Van Nuys Airport after departing from the airfield, according to Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor, who described it as a “homebuilt TM-1 Thunder Mustang.”

The Thunder Mustang is a three-quarter scale replica of a P-51 Mustang, a US World War II-era fighter plane, aviation experts said. Any homebuilt aircraft must be inspected by the FAA for airworthiness before its first flight like any general aviation aircraft, according to FAA regulations.

Courtney Gonzales, who was hiking in the area at the time, told reporters she saw the plane clip a tree and crash near the freeway. “The next thing we saw was a big black cloud of smoke,”’ she said.

Other witnesses in the area also reported seeing plumes of smoke near the freeway.

The cause of the crash remains under investigation.

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