Daniel Pino was swimming at Huntington State Beach with his nephew when he noticed a plane dropping dangerously close to the water.
“I thought he was trying to show off to the lifeguards,” said the vacationing San Francisco resident.
The next thing he saw was the plane take a sharp dive before it pummeled into the waves, nose first, and flipped over.
The pilot was able to climb out of the cockpit before coming to rest on the still-sinking aircraft, Pino said.
“Then it was like a competition with 15 or so lifeguards racing to get out there and help first,” he said.
The single-engine Piper Cub crashed into the Pacific Ocean at about 1:50 p.m., just south of Beach Boulevard, authorities said. The pilot was the only one on board, according to Eva Ngai of the Federal Aviation Administration.
Video posted on social media showed the plane going down before crash landing into shallow water. Though the plane leaned onto the nose after impact, it remained intact.
A search of the plane’s tail number showed it was registered to Van Wagner Aerial Media LLC, a Florida-based company that produces and flies aerial banners. A spokesperson for the company was not immediately available Friday.
Kevin Pearsall, a spokesperson for California State Parks, said nearly 2,500 kids had been at the beach at the time of the crash for Lifeguard Junior Nationals, and that some of the participants were among those who swam out to help the pilot.
“It was really fortunate for that pilot in that moment,” Pearsall said.
Dozens of beachgoers later stood by as a tractor towed the plane out from the water just south of Lifeguard Tower 15.
Most of the plane’s body remained intact but both wings had been mangled from the crash. The windows of the cockpit were smashed on all sides.
Sidney Contreras had never witnessed a plane go down, but already had fears about ever being aboard one.
The 26-year-old Huntington Beach resident said she was horrified to watch as the plane struck the water.
“This is just another sign telling me never to get into one of those tiny planes,” she said.
Contreras said she could hear the plane’s faint buzzing while sunbathing, and only took notice when it started growing louder.
“I looked up and it’s like feet away from hitting the water and then ‘bam,’ ” she said.
FlightAware tracking data showed the plane took off from Compton-Woodley Airport at about 10:45 a.m. and went north along the coast to Malibu before turning around and flying along the coast down toward Huntington Beach where it plunged into the water.
Also, FlightAware showed the plane had made several circles around Dodger Stadium in the hours before Monday’s Major League Baseball Home Run Derby and Tuesday’s All-Star Game.
What caused the plane to go down was not known.
Huntington Beach plane crash at Junior Lifeguards pic.twitter.com/a3UInlkOrJ
— Hutch (@rhutch99) July 22, 2022
Source: Orange County Register