The pilot who died in a plane crash in Newhall on Saturday has been identified by officials at the Los Angeles County Coroner-Medical Examiner’s Office.
Wayne Richards, 73, of North Hollywood, was identified as the pilot of the plane that lost control near the Highway 14 on-ramp at Newhall Avenue.
His manner of death was deemed an “accident” and the cause as multiple blunt force injuries, according to the report filed by the Coroner’s Office.
Richards was flying a “home-built” TM-1 Thunder Mustang out of Van Nuys Airport that had some form of an engine failure mid-flight, resulting in the crash landing.
The Thunder Mustang is a modern 3/4-scale replica of the P-51 Mustang, a single-seat fighter plane used during World War II and the Korean War.
Santa Clarita resident Shane Weeks of Castaic said on Monday that he had known Richards through work, and described him as soft spoken and well-respected.
“I did stuff for the cars in his hot rod shop Solo Performance,” Weeks said. “He was well-respected and liked in the hot rod industry. He was a soft-spoken guy that was always happy to see you. I am real bummed I never took his offer to show his plane and hangar to my 12-year-old son.”
Richard Reyman, a Castaic resident and also a close friend of Richards, said Monday that his friend and he would text every morning, wishing each other “good morning,” even if the other was away in another country or on vacation.
“He was a very energetic guy … he was always immersed in stuff and when he wasn’t working on customer cars, he was working on his own stuff,” said Reyman. “We would always have fun, he was very lighthearted … a very gregarious guy.”
Reyman said that the plane Richards was flying was a kit plane that he had purchased from Florida and flown back close to a decade ago. The plane engine, according to Reyman, had been changed out due to mechanical issues, but additional mechanical issues had resulted in the original engine being inside the aircraft when it went down.
“I don’t think you could say ‘pilot error,’” said Reyman, adding that Richards had decades of flying experience before his fateful crash on Saturday. “I think it was his experience that got him to keep it off the freeway. His original intent was to put it down on the freeway but I think there was way too much traffic in the last minute.”
Witnesses on the scene first noted the plane in the sky due to the smoke coming from the aircraft’s engine.
“All I know is it circled around and I heard a clicking noise above me,” Mike York, a witness of the crash, said Saturday. “I saw that the motor wasn’t running and smoke was coming out of it.”
After crash landing near the Newhall Avenue off-ramp of Highway 14 around 10:15 a.m. Saturday, the single-engine plane caught fire.
Richards, the sole occupant of the aircraft, was pronounced deceased at the scene.
“The pilot was the only person on board,” said Ian Gregor, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Agency. “We do not have any reports of injuries to anyone on the ground or damage to any structure on the ground.”
The National Transportation Safety Board will also be conducting an investigation of the incident, Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station Lt. Ethan Marquez said in a statement to the press.
The FAA and NTSB will investigate, according to Gregor. “The NTSB is the lead agency and it typically takes the NTSB a year or more to determine a probable cause of an accident.”