Pilot Killed in Crash Was Major Builder
The pilot of a light airplane who died Wednesday night in a crash near fog-shrouded John Wayne Airport was identified Thursday as Walter Scott Biddle, a major home developer in Orange County.
Biddle, 58, of Newport Beach was involved in the development of more than 10,000 homes in Orange and San Diego counties and throughout the state as far north as Sacramento and was a founding director of the California Building Industry Assn., said Timothy Collins, vice president of Biddle Development Inc. of Irvine.
Biddle, chairman of the company he founded in 1972, was returning from inspecting a residential project in Visalia when the accident occurred, Collins said.
“He was very much loved and respected by many people,” Collins said. Condolences pouring into Biddle Development’s offices Thursday “have been overwhelming. . . . He was very active in the growth of Orange County and very interested in its future. He was a creative type . . . ,” Collins said.
Meanwhile, investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were probing the crash, which occurred at 8:24 p.m. in a parking lot of a commercial building at 2082 Business Center Drive in Irvine, about half a mile east of the airport runway. Authorities said the plane tore into pieces on impact and ignited.
An safety board spokesman said that according to preliminary information, the pilot made a “missed approach” on his first attempt to land. On his second attempt, he was warned twice by air traffic controllers that he was too low, seconds before he crashed.
“For whatever reason, (Biddle) made a missed approach the first time,” said Gary Mucho, chief of the safety board’s Los Angeles office. The pilot then went around to “try it again, and that’s when the controllers told him he was too low, twice,” he said.
‘Went off Radar Scope’
Then the plane “went off the radar scope,” according to preliminary information, and crashed, he said.
Mucho said he had no further information on the first landing attempt or on the pilot’s altitude during his second and fatal approach. Fog limited visibility to half a mile at the time of the crash, Mucho said.
“Weather is definitely being considered as a factor,” Mucho said. The regional office determines only factual conditions of airplane crashes; the “probable cause” of the crash will be determined by the the safety board’s headquarters in Washington, he said.
Off-duty Orange County Fire Capt. Michael Rhode was in his car with his wife and son driving from dinner in Newport Beach when he saw the flames of the plane.
“I saw the explosion and the fireball come up from a block away, near Von Karman (Avenue) and Campus Drive,” he said. In the 45 seconds it took him to reach the crash site, Rhode said, the plane was “fully involved in flames.”
“We set up a rescue . . . but it was easy to see it was a fatal accident.”
Deputy Coroner Rick E. Plows said Biddle died of multiple injuries before the fire broke out.
Colleagues said Biddle, known as Scott, loved to fly and aviation was his primary hobby.
“He flew at least once or twice a week, for business and for pleasure. I think he thoroughly enjoyed looking down from the clouds,” said Kay Eggers, a Biddle employee for 14 years.
Learned to Fly in Navy
She said Biddle learned to fly when he was in the Navy and over the past dozen years had owned a number of airplanes.
“It was the time he got to get away from the telephones, and he really enjoyed it,” she said.
As an executive vice president of Broadmoor Homes from 1965 to 1971, Biddle was one of the original developers of Big Canyon, an exclusive Newport Beach community complete with golf course and country club. He also was responsible for homes built in Tustin, Santa Ana, Corona del Mar and Turtle Rock in Irvine, Biddle Vice President Collins said.
“He was a developer when not too many were,” Collins said. “His interests obviously were strong and deep in respect to the building industry.”
Active in the National Assn. of Homebuilders, Biddle was past president of the state Junior Chamber of Commerce, known as the Jaycees, and past national director of the U.S. Jaycees, Collins said.
He was a founding shareholder and vice chairman of Pacific National Bank, Collins said. Biddle was a member of Big Canyon Country Club, Balboa Bay Club and the Center Club, he said.
Biddle is survived by his wife, La Vonne, two sons and three stepdaughters, Collins said.
Instrument Rating Needed
Mucho said that because of the poor visibility around the Orange County airport, only pilots with a flight instrument rating were given permission to fly Wednesday night. “We’re assuming right now . . . that he was properly certified,” he said.
Mucho said the pilot left Visalia under visual flight rules--in which the pilot uses the horizon and other visual references to guide the craft in clear weather--but “somewhere en route” received clearance to land under instrument flight rules at John Wayne Airport. Under instrument flight rules, the pilot guides the craft with information from the plane’s instruments.
Although authorities said Wednesday night that it appeared that the plane bounced once before crashing 300 yards away and igniting, Mucho said Thursday that there was no evidence of that at the crash scene.
“It hit the ground and stayed just about where it hit,” he said.
An Orange County Fire Department official said damage at the scene was estimated at $50,000.
Deputy Coroner Plows, quoting a fire investigator, said Wednesday night that the Beechcraft had approached the airport against the flow of traffic, inside the normal approach pattern. Mucho said he had not heard that report and could not comment on it.
Times staff writer Nancy Wride contributed to this story.