Two small airplanes with a combined four people aboard collided in midair over the Southern California mountains, sending one crashing into a rocky ridge and killing its pilot while the second was able to maneuver a belly-flop landing on the fairway of a nearby golf course, officials said.
Rescuers searched through the wreckage of the plane that crashed and sparked a fire in rocky terrain in Calabasas on Monday and found a body that was believed to be the only person aboard, Los Angeles County sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said.
Firefighters responding to a report of a small wildfire at about 2 p.m. spotted the aircraft debris, put out the fire and began a search for survivors, county fire Inspector Quvondo Johnson said. The plane had taken off from Santa Monica Airport in order to test its engine.
Three people on the plane that landed on a fairway while stunned golfers looked on had minor injuries. One was hospitalized after complaining of back pain.
Aaron Jesse, 47, said he had left work early for a round with friends at Westlake Golf Course and saw the low-flying plane hit a tree, spin around 180 degrees and land surprisingly gently.
"Finally being a bad golfer paid off," Jesse told the Los Angeles Times. "I hit it in the trees to the right. They landed 50 feet to the left of us in the center of the fairway. All we heard was a thud and then he made a gentle bounce and slid down the center of the fairway."
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer said a preliminary review of radar records showed the two flight-paths crossed just after 2 p.m.
The golf-course plane, a single-engine Cessna 172RG, was flying west at an altitude of 3,500 feet when the second plane, also a Cessna, approached from the east after leaving Santa Monica Airport.
The National Transportation Safety Board and FAA are investigating.
FAA records show the plane on the golf course was manufactured in 1980 and is registered to Ameriflyers of Florida, LLC. A message left at a number listed for the company was not immediately returned.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.