SANTA ANA, Calif. (FOX 11 / CNS) - California Highway Patrol officials have identified the two people aboard a small plane that crashed on the 405 Freeway near John Wayne Airport.
Francis Pisano, 62, and Jana Pisano, 55, both of Cota de Caza, were taken to Orange County Global Medical Center in critical condition with spinal fractures and cuts following the crash, which occurred about 9:35 a.m. Friday.
They are both expected to recover.
State records show Francis Pisano as the owner of the Cessna that experienced engine problems shortly after takeoff Friday morning, forcing Pisano to try to return to the airport but crashing instead on the freeway.
One of the plane's engines lost power, so Pisano attempted to pilot it back to the airport westbound over the freeway, but the aircraft lost altitude and its tail clipped a center divider wall, according to the CHP.
The Cessna continued westbound before colliding with off-duty city of Avalon firefighter John Meffert's 2005 Mitsubishi. In the southbound lanes, the plane also collided with a 2008 Toyota with Uber driver Blackstone Hamilton, 51, behind the wheel.
Ji-Yong Dong, 23, of Ontario, crashed a 2006 Toyota into the plane's mdebris in the southbound lanes as did northbound motorist John Triplett, 69, of Folsom, who was driving a 2008 Toyota.
No one sustained injuries other than the Pisanos.
Francis Pisano 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 freeway north of the MacArthur Boulevard
``We got a mayday! We got a mayday! ... I can't make it back to the airport,'' he could be heard saying.
A Cessna with engine problems crash-landed on the San Diego (405) Freeway near John Wayne Airport on Friday and burst into flames while trying to return to the airport, leaving the pilot and his passenger hospitalized in critical condition and causing an hours-long traffic nightmare at the outset of the Fourth of July weekend, but miraculously not resulting in any casualties on the ground.
The plane crashed onto one of the most heavily traveled freeways in the nation at 9:35 a.m. It 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. He said three vehicles either struck the Cessna or parts of it on the southbound 405, and one vehicle struck some landing gear on the northbound 405, 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 female
passenger. 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 the city of Avalon on Catalina Island, came to their aid. First-responders arrived soon afterward and doused the
flames using foam.
"I wasn't even thinking about my own safety, but it was probably due to the wife who was the passenger, I saw her face and head pop up out of the passenger side, if she could be there, then I thought I could be there, I was able to get the wife back to the median, and help the husband, drag him out of the plane," Meffert said. "I surprised the wife, she wasn't a very big lady, but she was really trying to pull her husband out of the plane as well, and I was really amazed they weren't burned, so a lot of people had angels over them today. I wasn't looking for any fame, I'm just here to help people.
Cell phone video filmed by Mirza Baig showed Meffert and other bystanders rush into help, as they tended to the bloodied pilot and his injured passenger.
"My immediate response was just to help out," Baig said. "When he got pulled out he was at least conscious and he was able to connect with us and communicate with us, so we knew he was gonna be okay."
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
Several people posted video and photos of the crash scene on social media:
It was another story on the 405, 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.
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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