CORONA, Calif. - A single-engine airplane that crash-landed and caught fire on the Riverside (91) Freeway lost engine power as the pilot set up for an approach to Corona Municipal Airport, prompting him to put the plane down on the freeway, according to a report released Wednesday.
The accident involving the six-seat Piper Cherokee PA-32-300 occurred at 12:30 p.m. on Aug. 9 along the eastbound 91 at Lincoln Avenue.
The pilot and his passenger escaped uninjured, and no one on the ground was hurt.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board's preliminary report, the airman, whose identity was not disclosed, had taken off from Corona Airport and was in the traffic pattern when he encountered trouble.
"The pilot reported that he adjusted the engine power to level off and reduce airspeed while entering the downwind leg to Runway 25," the NTSB said. "He stated the engine did not respond, and he cycled the throttle several times with no change. The airplane was unable to maintain altitude, and the pilot elected to make a forced landing onto eastbound lanes of the 91."
Images captured on motorists' dashcams, as well as Caltrans' freeway cameras, showed the plane coming down in a landing configuration within the No. 4 lane, with vehicles just behind and in front of it.
"During the landing flare, to prevent the airplane from impacting a car, the pilot intentionally stalled the plane," according to the NTSB. "The plane subsequently landed hard, rotated clockwise and impacted a freeway barrier."
The Cherokee made contact with a Toyota Tundra pickup, causing unspecified minor damage, but the vehicle's three occupants were not injured, according to the California Highway Patrol.
The plane's impact with the freeway barrier triggered a fire that quickly enveloped the Cherokee as the pilot and passenger bolted out of the plane, which was pointed into the slow lane, with the tail near the shoulder of the freeway.
Two Corona Fire Department engine crews reached the location within five minutes and extinguished the blaze a short time later. The 50-year-old Cherokee, tail number N841AD, was completely destroyed.
Eastbound 91 traffic came to a standstill immediately after the crash. However, CHP officers only closed the No. 4 and 5 lanes, where the plane went down. The wreckage was removed that night, and the closures were lifted.