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Officials investigate Corona plane crash

January 21, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Federal investigators are sifting through the debris of a fatal plane crash in Corona, trying to figure out why the two planes collided in mid-air. Planes were back in the air Monday afternoon flying over the crash site.

NTSB investigators and a FBI forensics team were on site looking over the wreckage Monday. They spent most of the day trying to determine how the two single-engine Cessnas involved in the crash collided.

"We were all shaken and so far we do not know who it was flying. Somebody we know or don't know, the whole thing is unfortunate, but again accidents happen. Whether they happen on the freeway, the airport or at sea, you have to be careful," said Corona pilot Charlie Ammar.

The Riverside County Coroner's Office identified the dead as Scott Gayle Lawrence, 55, of Cerritos; Paul Luther Carlson, 73, also of Cerritos; Brandon William Johnson, 24, of Costa Mesa; Anthony Joel Guzman, 20, of Hesperia; and Earl Smiddy, 58, of Moreno Valley.

Smiddy was crushed in the car dealership. The other four were in planes, with two in each aircraft.

Two of the victims were flying out of Corona Flight Academy. The company's office Monday afternoon was full of people, but the doors were locked. Eyewitness News Reporter Gene Gleeson attempted to interview some of the people in the building.

"Is one of your planes involved in this?" asked Gene Gleeson. "Is the owner there of Flight Corona? Where do we find the owner? We just would like some basic answers. We just want some basic information."

The people in the building did not want to comment on or off camera.

The crash is the sixth in the area over the past decade, including another mid-air crash 10 years ago that killed three people. The two planes involved were flying to a nearby Chino airport, but the wreckage fell into a Corona neighborhood.

Some residents of Corona say that the airport and the air traffic around it makes them nervous.

"I live maybe two minutes from the airport right here. It is suddenly scary because planes are always flying over head and you never know if one is going to crash in your house or not. It is a chance you take," said Corona resident Tara McGinley.

One of the planes was a Cessna 172 registered to William A. Reinke of La Habra, according to aircraft databases. Reached at his home Sunday night, Reinke declined to say who was flying his plane or who might have been on board.

The second plane, a Cessna 150, is registered to Air Corona Inc., based in Dover, Del. Many plane owners register their aircraft in Delaware even if they are not based there because of the state's low taxes.

Without the aid of air traffic controllers, pilots are supposed to use visual flight rules when there are clear conditions. Pilots are responsible for their own safety, making sure they steer clear from aircraft and other potential hazards.

Pilots can communicate by radio with one another, but not all do, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said.

Investigators will likely try to determine if there were any other pilots in the area who saw the crash or heard any transmission between the two planes.


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