Off-duty firefighter, witnesses pull victims from 405 plane crash

SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- As a small plane went down on the 405 Freeway near the John Wayne Airport in Orange County, a fireball erupted. Drivers who witnessed the crash slowed and many pulled over, some even running toward the flames to offer whatever help they could.

Authorities said an off-duty Avalon firefighter pulled the two victims from the burning wreckage.

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Dramatic video shows drivers rushing to aid the two victims of a fiery plane crash on the 405 Freeway in Orange County.

Dramatic video shows several people pulling the man who was piloting the plane away from the crash scene. "Call 911," one person rendering aid said. "Get on the phone."

The pilot, who was covered in blood, was surrounded by civilian rescuers who worked to quickly assess his injuries. "Just breathe, just stay calm. Do not panic," one man can be heard telling the pilot.

The female passenger who was also injured in the crash can be seen in the video leaning against the concrete freeway divider, being tended to by another good Samaritan.

"We just pulled them both out," one man said as smoke billowed from the wrecked plane. "I just came all the way from across the highway."

The off-duty firefighter, John Meffert, spoke about the harrowing rescue during a Friday afternoon press conference. He said he was on the phone with his father while he was driving on the freeway.

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John Meffert, an off-duty Avalon firefighter, spoke out Friday on how he rushed to rescue a man and woman from a burning plane that crashed on the 405 Freeway in Santa Ana.

He said he told his father a plane looked really low as if it were going to hit his car. He said the plane then clipped his vehicle and he saw it crash. He got off the phone and ran to help the victims.

Meffert said while he helped the man, two off-duty nurses were tending to the woman who was hurt.

"I think the biggest thing was approaching the airplane and thinking, 'If I don't see movement, I'm staying back because I don't want to be a victim myself.' It wasn't until the wife, her head pops up, and again if she can be there, I can figure out a way to be there myself," Meffert said.

He said the whole plane was engulfed, but there was little of the flames on the passenger side, which made it easier for him to get the couple out.

One of the impromptu rescuers pulled out a knife and cut off the pilot's shirt to check his abdomen and chest for injuries. "You came in real hard," one man told the pilot. "I know," the bloodied pilot answered.

"Everyone started slowing down on the freeway, and it hit the northbound side and bounced into the southbound side and burst into flames immediately," one witness named Gabrielle said.

MORE: Small plane crashes on 405 Freeway near John Wayne Airport; 2 injured

Gabrielle said she and another driver got out of their cars and immediately ran across the street toward the flames. She saw an older woman who she believed had been inside the plane and the plane's pilot pulled from the burning wreckage.

"They both are alive, talking," Gabrielle said. "They kept telling me, 'It's just me and my husband.'"

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Gabrielle described the victims laying on the ground on the freeway, covered in blood.

One witness, Cassie Corsaro, saw a man put his car in reverse on the freeway and go back to the scene of the crash, disappearing into the flames.

"He was the first one," Corsaro said. The man tried to run "almost into the burning plane" to help, Corsaro said.

That man may have been Meffert, the off-duty firefighter who pulled the two crash victims from the flaming wreckage.

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OCFA Capt. Larry Kurtz said an off-duty Avalon firefighter near the scene pulled the two victims out of the plane after it crashed.

According to Corsaro, Meffert was not the only witness who attempted to render aid to the victims of the plane crash. "I know one guy ran back to his car to grab a bottle of water," Corsaro said. "Someone needed water."

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Two people were injured after a small airplane crashed on the 405 Freeway near John Wayne Airport in Orange County on Friday, officials said.

"They were doing everything that they could to help the people who were hurt," Corsaro said.
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