Witnesses say the plane skidded across the street and slammed nose-first into a wall outside a factory and burst into flames near Walnut Grove Avenue around 4:17 p.m. Saturday.
The plane took off from Brackett Field in La Verne on its way to Van Nuys when it went down.
It's not clear why the pilot tried to make an emergency landing, but fire officials on the scene say the strategic landing may have saves lives of people on the ground.
"He put it down between the buildings, over a couple of cars in the parking lot, missed a railroad signal light. He did a pretty good job of putting it someplace where people weren't going to get hurt," said Los Angeles County fire Capt. Curtis Hummel.
An autopsy on the pilot was pending Monday.
CNS contributed to this report.