Three people are missing after two planes collided in midair off the coast of Los Angeles Friday afternoon.
Among the missing are two men, 61 and 81, in one plane, and a 72-year-old woman in the other. All three are confirmed by family members to be experienced pilots and all are from southern California, ABC News reported.
After several hours combing the waters, however, rescue operations have failed to discover the three people, and have uncovered debris mostly from one plane. The search is expected to continue today.
The incident happened about 3 p.m. local time on Friday, when a fisherman watched a downed aircraft plummet into the water, CNN reported. At the same time, the planes disappeared on radar being monitored by the Federal Aviation Administration.
According to CBS News, the blue and yellow planes collided at 3,100 feet and then vanished.
Both planes had departed from Torrance Airport and were expected to return there earlier Friday, NBC Los Angeles reported; neither of the planes showed.
After the planes apparently collided, searchers discovered a debris field a quarter-mile from the Point Fermin Lighthouse, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and is at the San Pedro Breakwater.
The crash site is located near the San Pedro community, south of downtown Los Angeles. This area is well-frequented by fight students and at the time the planes collided, the skies were completely clear.
For now, officials are only speculating that the collision involved two planes because so far, little debris from the second plane has been found; according to ABC News, it’s considered missing. Coast Guard Capt. Jennifer Williams said “it would be unusual for one just to go down with that amount of debris field.”
One of the planes was a Beechcraft, the other a Super Decathlon, which is used for aerobatic stunts. As rescue operations combed an area a couple miles outside the entrance to Los Angeles Harbor Friday, where the water is as deep as 90 feet, they discovered the full tail of one plane and a partial number of the other.
They also found a log book connected to the Beechcraft plane carrying the two men, which helped identify it.
Federal and local officials conducted a rescue operation throughout the afternoon and early evening. The harbor was closed to all vessels during the search. As night fell, divers suspended their search, but they’ll keep looking by the morning. Overnight, a Coast Guard helicopter continued with night vision and two additional vessels scoured a 200-square-mile area.
On Saturday, helicopter crews will also reassess whether the mission should continue, or it’ll now be a recovery mission. Williams said that no one involved in the search wants to give up.
“We don’t want to give up on anybody that potentially is out there. It’s cold water, but it is possible to survive in those temperatures. We don’t want to give up until we really feel that there’s no chance, that we haven’t scanned the area, searched the whole area and looked for survivors.”
This isn’t the first time planes have collided midair near Los Angeles.
In 2001, four people died after a couple Cessna planes collided 1,000 above Los Angeles harbor; instructors and students were on board. And back in 1986, a pair of small planes flown by students collided but survived the incident and returned to local airports; none of the four people on board were hurt.
Given how busy the airspace in this area of Los Angeles is, Richard Garnett is surprised there haven’t been more accidents. He’s the chief flight instructor at Long Beach Flying Club and noted that pilots practice in a spot about 20 square miles in size and at an altitude of 1,000 to 4,000 feet. Three to four planes are in the air on any given day.
“So with the amount of activity, actually, I think we’ve been fortunate. We are really diligent. I don’t know why, what happened in this situation.”
[Photo By Damian Dovarganes/AP]