SM AIRPORT — A small plane carrying a pair of passengers crashed upon takeoff here Wednesday, killing both onboard.

City officials said that the single-engine craft was attempting to fly out of Santa Monica Airport shortly after 5 p.m. when the pilot reported engine trouble to the control tower. As the pilot attempted to land, the plane lost all power and headed nose first into the ground where it erupted into flames roughly 1,000 feet from the west end of the runway. No one on the ground was injured.

SMO manager Bob Trimborn called the incident “rare” and said this was just the second to occur since he began working in aviation in 1983. He said that the scene is considered a crime scene until more information can be gathered.

“It was a routine departure and then something tragically happened,” Trimborn said.

He added that the plane was privately owned and operated and was based out of SMO.

Neither passenger has been identified and the flight plan was not released as of presstime. SMO was subsequently closed and all arrivals and departures were directed to area airports.

“I saw a plane not taking a normal takeoff,” witness Mitchell Malachowski said shortly after the plane went down. “I saw it pitch to the right, it didn’t look intentional.”

Malachowski, an attorney who works at an office park directly north of the airport, said that the plane dipped out of sight for a moment following the initial engine trouble. He estimated that the plane was 200 feet off the ground when it rolled onto its side and began its decent to the ground.

He scanned the area until he saw a column of smoke rising from the spot where he believed the plane crashed. He added that emergency responders arrived soon after.

Another witness, Loren Drake, was at nearby Clover Park watching his son play soccer when he first heard the plane’s engine sputter. By the time he located it in the sky, he said the engine apparently failed and was emitting no sound.

“My first reaction was ‘what the hell is he doing,’” Drake said.

Once the plane came to rest on the runway, he ran toward Santa Monica Fire Department no. 5 where he alerted personnel that a plane had just crashed. First responders immediately left the station and headed toward the flaming wreckage.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor confirmed that a single-engine Siai Marchetti F260 crashed at the airport. He added that safety inspectors from the National Transportation Safety Board were working the scene to determine the cause of the crash.

“It caught fire [upon crashing] and unfortunately both people onboard were killed,” Gregor said.

daniela@smdp.com

Kevin Herrera and Melody Hanatani contributed to this report.

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