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Haunting Last Words From Pilot In Whiteman Pacoima Accident

The pilot of the plane contacted ATC while on final to report a problem and his plan. That was his last transmission.

A screencapture of news coverage of a plane crash short of Whiteman Airport.
A screencapture of news coverage of a plane crash short of Whiteman Airport.
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On Thursday, a small plane crashed into parked cars just while on approach to and just short of Whiteman Airport (Pacoima, California) Runway 12. The pilot and sole occupant was killed in the accident.

While some crashes are mysteries, this one is probably not. The plane, a Cessna 182 operated by the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), apparently lost power while it was on final approach for Whiteman. The organization told Plane & Pilot that it is not releasing the name of the pilot based on his family’s wishes.

The ATC recording of the busy Whiteman control tower is chilling. While on approach to Runway 12, the pilot reported to ATC:

CAP 439: “Whiteman Tower, CAP 439, we’ve got a loss of engine power here, we’re gonna try and stretch it to the runway.” 

Tower: “Cap 439, Roger. Runway’s cleared and you’re cleared to land.”

CAP 439: “…and hopefully we’ll make it.”

Our transcript is based on the audio of those final communications as captured on LiveATC.net. A longer recording is here.

A number of  pilots reacted to the recording by correctly noting that you can’t “stretch a glide.” An airplane has an optimal best-glide airspeed, and when you factor in winds (and therefore groundspeed), flying at best glide will get you as far as you’re going to go. In all fairness, however, the term “stretch the glide” is often used figuratively to indicate that the pilot will work to get the best possible glide performance out the  plane, which is possible, again, by flying at best glide speed for the conditions and plane being flown. The FAA’s rule of thumb for best glide speed is that it is about halfway between Vx (best angle of climb speed) and Vy (best rate of climb). 

Regardless of how it happened, the tragic truth is that the 182 crashed into two parked cars and narrowly avoided houses just feet away. No one on the ground was injured. The crash site looks to be a few hundred feet from the long-displaced threshold at Whiteman’s Runway 12. 

The FAA and NTSB are investigating.

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