Parts of a small plane rest in the front yard of a home Monday on 21st Street near the Santa Monica Airport. (photo by Daniel Archuleta)

SUNSET PARK — A small airplane crashed into an unoccupied home in the Sunset Park neighborhood Monday afternoon, injuring the pilot and a painter who was working on the house at the time of the accident.

Osbaldo Audatat was one of four men painting the home located on the 3100 block of 21st Street when the plane struck at approximately 2:45 p.m.

The men turned when they heard a noise, and saw a plane coming straight for them, clipping the tree in front of a nearby house before crashing.

They jumped out of the way, and the plane crashed just where they’d been standing, Audatat said.

“We were very lucky,” he said.

The plane then hit a cinderblock wall in the back of the house, which took most of the impact, authorities said.

A fourth man, whose first name is Luis, was in the back of the house at the time of the incident. He sustained minor injuries, possibly from being hit by debris that resulted from the impact, said Capt. Judah Mitchell of the Santa Monica Fire Department.

The crash caused a small fire. One of the painters grabbed a garden hose and put out the flames, and they helped the pilot out of the plane.

The pilot suffered moderate injuries, possibly a broken ankle or leg, according to Santa Monica Airport Director Robert Trimborn.

Both the pilot, who has not been identified, and the injured painter were taken to local hospitals. The painter went to Saint John’s Medical Center. It’s currently unclear where the pilot was taken.

The plane was a Cessna 172 that belonged to Justice Aviation, a flight school that has been based at Santa Monica Airport for the last 20 years.

Joe Justice, the owner of the school, confirmed that the plane belonged to the company, but had no further comment pending the results of investigations by the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.

Trimborn said the plane had first attempted to land on the runway at SMO, but “something went wrong.”

“We saw him attempt to land, and then try to go around,” Trimborn said. “There is no cause. The NTSB and FAA have been notified and they are on their way to the scene. They will determine a probable cause, but we won’t know that for many months.”

That no one, including the pilot, had died in the crash was, Trimborn said, “a miracle.”

The last time a plane crashed into a neighborhood in the area was approximately seven to eight years ago, Trimborn added.

The crash will likely stoke the flames of the debate surrounding the fate of the airport and the flight schools that operate there.

Santa Monica’s airport has been the center of a game of tug-of-war between the FAA and City Hall, which has expressed an interest in closing down the airport in 2015.

The federal agency contends that the airport is part of a vital network of airports that would be critical in any major emergency, and cannot be shut down.

Santa Monica officials say that the FAA has no ability to dictate what happens with the airport past 2015, when a 20-year agreement with the FAA expires.

With that in mind, city officials have begun a “visioning process” for the airport, examining all options from keeping the airport as-is to shutting it down completely.

There is agitation on both sides of the issue.

A newly-formed coalition of pilots, flight instructors and mechanics called Friends of the Santa Monica Airport, or FOSMO, say that the airport brings a great deal of economic vitality to the area, and is working to change its reputation.

Residents of Sunset Park, Venice and Mar Vista protest the airport, saying that it represents a hazard not only from the possibility of a crash, but also from the noise and pollution that the planes emit.

Monday’s incident has surely given the airport’s opponents more ammunition.

“I’m relieved to hear that no one died in the accident,” said Zina Josephs, a representative of the neighborhood group Friends of Sunset Park. “Unfortunately, when a runway is surrounded by homes, as the Santa Monica Airport’s runway is, there is no safe emergency landing if a plane loses power.”

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