SM AIRPORT — The head of a popular aviation Web site was one of two victims who perished in a fatal plane crash here on Wednesday night, according to friends and colleagues.

The forum for Airliners.net was flooded with messages of condolences on Thursday as news spread that Paulo Emanuele, the site’s general manager, died when the Marchetti F260 he was aboard headed nose first into the ground and erupted in flames at Santa Monica Airport shortly after takeoff.

The Los Angeles County Coroner has yet to release the names of the victims but officials with Airliners.net issued a statement on Wednesday night, identifying one of the victims as the aviation enthusiast.

“Paulo loved Airliners(.net) and everything it stands for,” the statement on the site’s main page said. “He will be remembered for his passion, his kindness, and his love for life.”

The Web site is part of Demand Media, a Santa Monica-based company specializing in social media and technology.

The experimental single-engine aircraft took off from the airport shortly after 5 p.m. when the pilot reportedly experienced engine trouble. As he attempted to land, the pilot lost control of the plane, which crashed roughly 1,000 feet from the west end of the runway. No one on the ground was injured.

“The indication that I got was that he apparently had attempted to make contact with the tower but it was doubling with another aircraft so we don’t know what he was saying,” Patrick Jones, an air safety investigator for the NTSB, said. “Witnesses on the ground all observed that the engine appeared to be having problems.

“People described that the aircraft started flying slow and then started doing a stall spin.”

Jones said the pilot was most likely planning to fly the aircraft around the area for a while before returning to the airport.

The airport, which was shut down immediately after the crash, reopened around 7 a.m. on Thursday when normal operations resumed, according to Bob Trimborn, the SMO manager.

The NTSB is currently investigating the crash and estimates that a probable cause won’t be determined for six months to a year.

Jones said that he will spend the next several months on the fact-finding portion of the investigation, which involves inspecting the engine and air frame and checking to see where the failure might have occurred. He also plans to investigate the pilot’s history, including his experience level with the specific aircraft.

This is the first fatal accident at the airport since 2001 when a Cessna 340A failed to take off after a pin designed to keep the aircraft on the ground wasn’t removed before takeoff. Two people were killed in the crash, including a Santa Monica resident.

“I’ve been in the business a long time and this incident last night and the one that happened way back … are the only fatal accidents we’ve had in the airport,” Trimborn said. “It’s very, very rare.”

The accident renewed fears among residents in Sunset Park that a plane could one day overshoot the runway and crash into homes.

“It always does when they see the smoke and hear fire engines going and helicopters hovering overhead,” said Zina Josephs, the president of Friends of Sunset Park. “It’s always nerve wrecking, especially until we find out what happened.”

City Hall and the Federal Aviation Administration are currently involved in a legal battle over a ban on the largest and fastest jets from SMO.

Josephs added that while residents were saddened to hear about the deaths in the crash, they were relieved that the incident didn’t involve a home.

“When I hear about an airplane crash involving Santa Monica Airport, I find myself thinking, ‘thank God it wasn’t a jet,’ because the toll of injuries and deaths might be even worse,” Josephs said.

melodyh@smdp.com

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