Sunday 21 April, 2019

Police: Pilot in fatal California crash had fake records

Firefighters work the scene of a deadly plane crash in the residential neighbourhood of Yorba Linda, Calif., Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Firefighters work the scene of a deadly plane crash in the residential neighbourhood of Yorba Linda, Calif., Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

The man piloting a small plane that broke apart over a Southern California neighbourhood had false credentials identifying him as a retired Chicago police officer, authorities said Tuesday.

Antonio Pastini was killed when the twin-engine plane broke up shortly after takeoff and fell in pieces in Yorba Linda, igniting a fire in a home where four people died on Sunday. The cause of the crash has not been determined.

Pastini, 75, was initially identified as a retired officer but Chicago police said there were no records of him working for the department.

The credentials found at the crash site included false retirement papers and a police badge bearing the same number as a badge reported lost in 1978, Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in an email to The Associated Press.

Orange County sheriff's spokeswoman Carrie Braun said the credentials were not legitimate but the pilot was indeed Pastini. The victims inside the home have yet to be publicly identified.

Pastini's daughter, Julia Ackley, said her father's birth name was Jordan Isaacson, but she didn't say why he changed it. She wouldn't address the police credentials.

"I'd prefer not to comment, and let the investigators do their job," Ackley told KABC-TV. "My father is exactly who he said he was."

She said he was a restaurant owner and an experienced pilot who flew regularly from his home in Nevada to visit family in California.

Aviation safety experts cautioned against drawing early conclusions about the cause of the crash.

"At this stage you don't make assumptions. You let the evidence lead you where it leads you," said John Cox, a former commercial pilot and a veteran crash investigator who is head of the consulting firm Safety Operating Systems.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators have been collecting parts of the aircraft, the plane's records and information about Pastini, who was described as a commercial pilot with an instrument flight rating.

Preliminary information showed the plane took off around 1:35 p.m. Sunday from Fullerton Municipal Airport, made a left turn and climbed to an altitude of 7,800 feet (2,377 metres) before starting to descend over Yorba Linda.

Weather was intermittently rainy across Southern California during the weekend, but specific conditions encountered by the flight were not immediately known.

Observers said the plane initially appeared intact when it fell through a cloud ceiling at an altitude of about 2,000 to 3,000 feet (600 to 900 metres), investigator Maja Smith said.

"Witnesses say that they saw the airplane coming out of a cloud at a very high speed before parts of the airplane such as tail and subsequently wings starting to break off," she said.

The Cessna 414A has a good reputation, said Cox, who said he has flown similar Cessnas since the 1970s. In-flight breakups are uncommon, and causes can range from metal fatigue to instrument failure and forces induced by the pilot, he said.

He said the breakup may have begun earlier than was apparent to the witnesses.

"Small pieces may have come off that are leading up to the cataclysmic breakup that people see. You need to make sure that the airplane was fully intact when they first see it," he said. "As an investigator, you have to be careful about that."

Losing control of an airplane can also lead to a breakup, Cox said.

One of the first things that might fail in that situation, he said, is a horizontal stabilizer — the structures that look like small wings on the tail.

"Once one of them comes off the loads then on the airplane will exceed what it can then withstand and other pieces will fail due to structural overload," Cox said.

Photos of the wreck showing the outer portions of the wings apparently snapped off are consistent with the type of forces wings are subjected to with the loss of one or more horizontal stabilizers and when the airplane loses aerodynamic balance, he said.

Video showing puffs of smoke erupting in the sky as the plane fell were consistent with an in-flight breakup rather than an in-flight fire aboard the plane, Cox said

Witnesses described the plane as sounding like a missile or a racing motorcycle. Cox said that could be the result of the engines no longer being under control.

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