VAN NUYS, LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A 47-year-old man who worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory was killed when his small plane crashed shortly after departure in an intersection near the Van Nuys Airport on Friday, Federal Aviation Administration officials said.
The crash was reported at about 1:20 p.m. at Vanowen Street and Hayvenhurst Avenue in the Lake Balboa district.
"I heard a big boom. It was like a bomb went off. I thought it was a car accident," witness PJ Jafari said.
Alberto Enrique Behar, of Scottsdale, Arizona, was on board the plane and was declared dead at the scene. Behar was a technical staff member at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
He worked on two Mars missions and spent years researching how robots work in harsh environments like volcanoes and underwater.
"He was well known for his energy, enthusiasm, and technical excellence," said JPL Science Division manager Michael Watkins. "His career was dedicated to better understanding Earth and the other planets. On behalf of everyone at JPL, I wish to extend our condolences to his family and friends."
The single-engine Lancair narrowly missed an SUV and did not hit any structures when it crashed, and it also did not catch fire, officials said. No other injuries were reported.
"It could have been a lot worse," said LAPD Sgt Barry Montgomery said. "The citizens in this area were really very fortunate that this wasn't a more tragic incident."
It is not yet known what caused the plane to crash.
The intersection has been shut down due to the investigation. Drivers were advised to avoid the area.