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Jet Hurtles Past Runway, Comes to Rest on Golf Links

Times Staff Writer

A corporate jet with failed steering and brake systems slammed into a runway at Van Nuys Airport at 150 m.p.h. Tuesday morning and hurtled 8,000 feet before crashing through a fence, clipping the tops of two cars and landing in the rough at the Van Nuys Golf Course, authorities said.

Despite the harrowing 7:30 a.m. landing, there were no serious injuries, according to fire and hospital officials.

However, the plane’s pilot and co-pilot and two people whose cars were hit by the aircraft suffered minor injuries, said Vince Marzo, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Flight From Tucson

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Jim Mitchell, the pilot, said the hydraulic control system on the twin-engine Rockwell International AC-21 Jet Commander suddenly failed between Tucson and Van Nuys, disabling the plane’s steering and landing mechanisms.

“There were no emergency controls, no directional controls . . . and no brakes,” said Mitchell, who was hospitalized briefly at Valley Presbyterian Hospital with back and shoulder injuries. “I’m just glad to be alive. It’s a miracle.”

With an airport rescue team racing behind it, the crippled plane sped down the runway and through a chain link fence separating the runway from Vanowen Street, with at least one of its engines still running, Marzo said. Before hitting another fence at the edge of the golf course across the street, the plane hit the tops of two cars traveling on Vanowen, he said.

George Drew, 17, of Pacoima, apparently was sleeping in the back of a pickup truck when one of the jet’s wings sheared off a camper shell above him, Marzo said. Drew was treated for facial cuts at Valley Presbyterian Hospital and released, a hospital spokesman said.

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Co-Pilot Hospitalized

Mitchell’s co-pilot, whose name was not released, suffered neck and back injuries and was admitted to Northridge Hospital Medical Center, where he was in good condition, a hospital spokeswoman said. A woman driving a station wagon that was struck by the plane refused treatment and left the scene, Marzo said.

The one passenger in the plane was not hurt.

Armando Hernandez, a welder who was working at a nearby apartment house, said he saw the jet burst through a row of oleander bushes in front of the fence at the end of the runway.

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“I saw it go smashing into the fence on the other side of the road,” he said. “The engine was still screaming when the plane stopped moving. . . . I thought it was going to blow.”

Quick Thinking Praised

A firefighter at the scene said the co-pilot may have prevented an explosion when he crawled back into the wreckage to turn the engines off. Marzo said Mitchell, the pilot, may have avoided a collision with the passing cars by some quick thinking at the end of the runway.

“From what I understand, he pulled the plane up just as it was hitting the fence,” Marzo said. “That’s why it skipped over the road. Otherwise he might have run into the cars.”

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In a tape-recorded interview with the spokesman at Valley Presbyterian Hospital that was played later for reporters, Mitchell said he did not know what caused the jet to malfunction. He said two hydraulic pumps recently were installed in the jet and that “routine maintenance” checks had been scheduled at the airport Tuesday morning.

Marzo said Mitchell radioed the control tower on his approach to the airport to report that the plane was having problems with its hydraulic control system. After circling the field he decided to attempt a landing, Marzo said.

Harvey Shirley, the plane’s passenger, said Mitchell tried to use an emergency brake system during the landing but that the system failed. He said the landing took about 20 seconds.

“It happened so fast and I didn’t see much,” said Shirley, a businessman from Tennessee. “I was trying to brace myself. By the time I got scared it was over.”

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Under Investigation

Dean Cooper, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration’s Van Nuys office, said the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the accident.

Marzo said the plane was removed from the rough on the sixth hole of the golf course by crane and taken to an empty hanger for inspection. A light pole had cut a deep gash in the right wing and the edge of the left wing was missing.

One of the plane’s wheels was lying on the golf course near the street and another wheel was partly collapsed under the body. The nose of the craft had been smashed and parts of the plane were tangled in netting used to keep errant golf shots out of the street.

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A spokesman for the golf course said there were few players on the course at the time of the accident and none on the sixth hole.

Traffic on Vanowen Street was stalled until about noon, when roadblocks set up by the Fire Department were removed, Marzo said.


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