Report details eyewitness pilot’s account of mid-air plane collision off Long Beach
LONG BEACH – The National Transportation Safety Board released a preliminary report with detailed accounts from a pilot who witnessed the fatal collision of two small planes May 18, about five miles south of the Port of Long Beach.
The investigation into the collision, which killed Gary Gierczak, 54, of Los Alamitos, James C. Choo 32, of Torrance and Thomas Ferrell, 31, of the Netherlands who was visiting family in Westminster, is ongoing, said NTSB spokesman Terry Williams on Tuesday.
The report released Monday said the third pilot, who was flying south in the immediate area of the collision, noticed a silhouette of what appeared to be a Cessna 172 at his 10 to 11 o’clock position.
Choo, a certified flight instructor, and Ferrell, a student pilot, were aboard the plane, authorities said within days of the crash.
The airplane appeared to be performing maneuvers and making turns in a counter-clockwise direction, followed by a clockwise direction, according to the report.
The pilot altered his course slightly to the right, due to the Cessna’s close proximity, and continued to monitor the Cessna’s location, the report stated.
As the pilot looked to his right while turning, he noticed another airplane, traveling at a high rate of speed, entering the area from the west and heading east. He couldn’t identify the airplane type; it appeared as a “black object” because the sun had almost set on the horizon.
Authorities later confirmed that plane was a Cessna 310P piloted by Gierczak, described as a licensed pilot for about 35 years by his brother, Greg Gierczak, .
The fast-moving Cessna 310 remained on an easterly path while the Cessna 172 continued heading south and performing maneuvers. Both planes were around the same altitudes, the report stated.
Shortly thereafter, around 6 p.m., the third pilot witnessed both airplanes collide and they “immediately disintegrated into small pieces.” The debris from both airplanes descended into the ocean. The pilot reported the collision to air traffic control and circled the area of floating debris until first responders arrived, the report stated.
On May 20 and 21, divers with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Port of Los Angeles police located and recovered wreckage of both planes and the remains of the three victims on the ocean floor, about 80 feet below the surface, and five miles south of the breakwater.
Both planes had taken off from Long Beach Airport. The Cessna 310 departed about 5:20 and the Cessna 172 departed about 5:50 p.m., the report stated.
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