Search Is Suspended for Pilot, 2 Students in Crash Off Coast

Times Staff Writer

Choppy seas forced suspension Monday afternoon of a search for an Orange County flight instructor and two students apparently killed in the crash of a light plane off the Newport Beach Pier Sunday night, authorities said.

Missing and presumed dead were Phillip Teffley of Irvine, the flight instructor, and students Benigno Villa, 38, Costa Mesa, and Barry King of

Newport Beach, Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Joseph Hartline said Monday.

It was not immediately known what may have caused the crash, but witnesses told authorities they saw the plane veer off toward the ocean, bank suddenly to one side and plunge into the sea.

Officials for the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration were conducting an investigation Monday. They could not be reached for comment.

Teffley was an experienced training pilot for Aero Flight Center, according to a woman identifying herself as the manager of the 15-year-old flight school and aircraft rental facility based at Orange County's John Wayne Airport.

The manager, who declined to give her name, said the instructor had taken the two students up in the single-engine Piper Archer for nighttime training required to obtain a private pilot's license.

Plane Flying Low

People standing on the Newport Pier watched the four-seater aircraft plunge into the water about one-half mile offshore at about 11:14 p.m. Sunday, Newport Beach police said. Witnesses told authorities the plane had been flying very low over the water but did not appear to have engine problems, a Newport police spokesman said.

Aided by powerful floodlights, two Coast Guard vessels and a helicopter conducted a nighttime search of a 75-square-mile area offshore, turning up landing gear and seats of the aircraft, Petty Officer James Chiunate said. Also found were papers floating in the water, including a flight manual containing registration information used to trace the plane to Aero Flight, he said.

Orange County Harbor Patrol scuba divers Monday searched an area where a surface slick of oil was spotted about 600 yards southeast of the Newport Pier, Harbor Patrol Sgt. John Holani said.

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