Emergency personell respond Sunday to a crash at Santa Monica Airport involving a single-engine plane (right) that slammed into the runway after losing engine power shortly after takeoff. The pilot was injured but is expected to survive the crash. (photo by Lynn Barker)

SM AIRPORT — Lloyd Saunders was hard at work in the garden when he heard it.

Lynn Barker was enjoying an afternoon outside with her husband when the sound caught their attention.

All looked up and saw and heard the same thing — a small plane struggling overhead, sputtering, going out of sight and then silence.

They knew the fate of the plane.

“I didn’t go over to the airport because I had figured what had happened,” Saunders, who lives on Hill Street just north of the airport, said.

The plane, a single-engine Long-EZ, departed from Santa Monica Airport around 2:45 p.m. on Sunday for a local flight, losing engine power immediately after. The pilot turned around and attempted to make an emergency landing when the plane crashed on the runway and skidded off.

The pilot and only person on board, William Davenport of Los Angeles, was transported to a nearby hospital where he was still being treated for injuries as of Monday afternoon. Officials said the injuries appear not to be life threatening.

The runway was closed for about five hours following the crash for crews to comb through debris, reopening around 8 p.m., Ian Gregor, the spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said. The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the accident, a process that is expected to take several months.

Barker, who lives on Warren Avenue just a few blocks south of the airport, described the panic that she and her husband felt as they heard the plane sputter, running to the front of the house and wondering where the plane would fall.

“This went on for a minute and then it stalled completely and there was silence,” Barker said. “We were honestly waiting for a crash and it never came.”

She jumped in the car and drove to the airport, snapping some photos of the crash scene.

“Thank god he was an experienced pilot because he did the right thing,” Barker, who also serves on the VenMar Airport Committee, said. “If it was a person taking flying lessons, it could have been another story.”

The accident was similarly unnerving for residents who have fears that a plane will some day crash into homes, which sit less than 300 feet from both runway ends. City Hall and the FAA are currently embroiled in a legal battle over an ordinance banning categories C and D jets from the airport, which was passed last year in response to residents’ concerns that a plane could one day overshoot the runway. The plane involved in the weekend crash does not fall into either categories.

Rod Merl, the senior administrative analyst for the airport, said the experimental aircraft ended up on a 50-foot-wide area between the runway and taxiway near where the planes are parked.

After 30 years living near the airport, Saunders and his wife are contemplating moving as soon as the housing market stabilizes. He said that the noise makes it challenging to run a design business out of their home.

He added concerns over the large presence of crows in Sunset Park and whether that could one day lead to an accident, citing the U.S. Airways accident in January when a plane plummeted into the Hudson River after striking a flock of geese.

“At one time it was just a small neighborhood airport and I liken it now to Santa Monica International,” Saunders said.


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