MALIBU Mike Dwyer ran as fast as he could, panting and splashing sand as he darted toward the sunset, the image of a plane plummeting into the water fresh in his mind as he dove into the ocean.
Jason Sandoval frantically paddled across the water on his surfboard, fighting the waves as he followed the wreckage, hoping to find survivors in a crash he heard from his office window just moments before.
At a time when most people were getting ready to call it a day at work, two colleagues crossed paths outside of the office, both trying to save the victims in a plane crash that took place just outside of their office in Malibu.
Dwyer, a Santa Monica resident, and Sandoval, who resides in Venice, were the first men at the scene after a Sky Arrow 600 Sport ditched into the ocean just off Malibu Pier on Oct. 7. The two men, who work at JAKKS Pacific, are being applauded for their roles in the rescue effort, arriving shortly after the crash to find the passenger and pilot both hanging onto a broken wing.
The crash occurred just 50 yards offshore near the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and Malibu Canyon Road just shortly after taking off from Santa Monica Airport. The small, single-engine aircraft was registered to Northfield Aviation LLC and was based at SMO.
The passenger and pilot were severely injured in the crash and were airlifted to the UCLA Medical Center in Westwood.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the crash.
Dwyer, who is in charge of legal and human resources for JAKKS Pacific, a multi-branding company for toys and leisure products, was looking out his window when he saw the plane just 10 feet from the water, plummeting and making a splash.
“I instantly stood up and screamed for someone to call 911,” Dwyer said.
Around the same time Sandoval, who is the director of finance for the company and works on a different floor, heard a bang, which was followed by a woman screaming about a plane crash.
The two men jumped out of their seats and darted across Pacific Coast Highway toward the water, Sandoval carrying his surfboard, Dwyer wearing a life jacket that a stranger at the beach had just handed to him.
They arrived within seconds of each other at the scene to find two bloodied victims, one of whom was disoriented and clearly in shock, the other still coherent.
“It was surprising that they survived,” Sandoval said.
Dwyer and Sandoval pulled the victims on to the surfboard and were about to paddle them back when a lifeguard boat arrived.
After the victims were assisted onto the boat, Dwyer and Sandoval headed back to shore and went back to work.
“It’s one of the strangest things I ever felt in my life,” Dwyer said. “I just looked and saw the plane crash and went on auto pilot and ran hoping we could pull them out of the wreckage.”
In fact, Dwyer said he never goes into the ocean because of a fear of sharks.
“I wasn’t even thinking about it,” he said. “God and my autopilot took over.”
One of the victims was 70-year-old Griff Hoerner who owns Overview Construction, a general contracting company located at the airport. Hoerner, an avid pilot, also teaches a private pilot ground school at Santa Monica College’s Bundy Campus, which is adjacent to the airport.
Hoerner has worked with the Bayside District Corp. over the past several years on various projects, including Ice at Santa Monica, a temporary skating rink located on the corner of Fifth Street and Arizona Avenue.
His company is currently installing the sandbox that serves as the leveling surface for the rink, which will be open for the holiday season, according to Andrew Thomas, the operations manager for Bayside, a private-public management company that oversees Downtown Santa Monica.
The crash was a nightmare that came true for Hoerner’s employees.
“I’ve always been afraid,” Cindy Chandler, the office administrator for Overview Construction, said. “Every time I heard a plane crash, I wanted to make sure it wasn’t him and this time it was.
“But he’s a very strong man and it’s not going to amaze me if he walks out of that hospital and comes to work that same day because he’s just that kind of guy.”