A flight instructor from Santa Monica Flyers, a flight school located at the airport, and a student were killed while trying to land following an introductory flight lesson at about 4:25 p.m. on Thursday afternoon.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Accident Investigator Eliott Simpson said the flight took off at about 3:30 p.m., flew along the coast for about an hour and everything appeared normal during the landing approach before the plane suddenly climbed and crashed.

“We have witness statements and video at the airport indicating that airplane, shortly after or possibly just before touch down, pitched into the air aggressively nose up, climbed to about a hundred feet and rolled back to the ground,” he said.

Firefighters were assisted by the Santa Monica Police, Santa Monica Airport Operations, and NTSB. There were no impacts to Santa Monica neighborhoods.

Santa Monica Firefighters were on scene within a couple of minutes and reported finding the wreckage on fire. Simpson said his team worked on their investigation Thursday night and the airport reopened at its conclusion.

NTSB is leading the investigation and more information related to the investigation will be made available at www.ntsb.gov. Simpson said a preliminary report on the crash would be available in about 10-14 days. A final report will be issued 12-18 months after the accident.

Past fatalities at SMO:

1990: A pilot became disorientated in dense fog and crashed into the ocean while attempting to land. 

1992: A pilot hit power lines at the end of the airport while trying to make an emergency landing due to engine failure. The NTSB report said the probable cause was water leaking into the fuel tanks due to a defect in the aircraft’s design and a lack of preflight inspection to uncover the problem before the flight took off. A passenger was also in the plane at the time of the crash. 

1993: A student pilot, his instructor and a qualified commercial pilot died when the plane fell from the sky during a steep turn and crashed into a residential area about two miles from the airport. The NTSB said the probable cause was the student pilot’s failure to maintain minimum airspeed in flight which resulted in an inadvertent stall/spin. Contributing to the accident were improper weight and balance, inadequate altitude, and inadequate supervision.

1994: A plane hit a utility pole and crashed into a residential garage after the pilot refueled as part of a cross-country trip. The NTSB said the pilot probably failed to select the fuel tank that contained fuel and a corresponding drop in airspeed while attempting to land resulted in an inadvertent stall. 

2001: Three people died when a pilot became disorientated while flying over the ocean. The NTSB report said the pilot was not familiar with the flying conditions and the crash was likely a result of pilot error. Contributing factors were the dark night, the marine cloud layer that restricted the pilot’s cruising altitude, and the pilot’s lack of familiarity with nighttime flight over the ocean.

2001: Two people died when a plane failed to become airborne during a takeoff attempt and vaulted over the end of the runway before crashing into a guardrail on an airport service road. The NTSB report found the pilot had failed to remove a gust control lock, a device that prevents flight control surfaces (ailerons, elevator or stabilator, or rudder) from moving when the plane is parked and subsequently abort the attempt in sufficient time. 

2006: Two people died when a plane lost power and crashed into the ocean. The NTSB said the cause was mechanical failure due to substandard maintenance of the plane. In addition, the report said use of a safety harness would have significantly increased the chances of survival. 

2009: Two people died when a plane lost power shortly after takeoff causing the aircraft to dive into the runway. The cause was found to be selection of the wrong fuel tank for takeoff and the pilot’s failure to maintain control during the return attempt. 

2012: A pilot died after striking treetops while trying to return to the airport shortly after departure. The pilot declared an emergency during his return but did not clarify what specifically was wrong. The NTSB found no mechanical faults with the craft or obvious pilot errors and the accident’s cause is undetermined. 

2013: Four people died when the pilot lost control of the plane following landing. The plane left the runway and hit a hanger that subsequently collapsed on the aircraft. The cause was determined to be the pilot’s failure to decrease ground speed and maintain control during landing. 


Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...