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3 Killed in Air Crashes Named; Neighbors of Airport Voice Dismay

Times Staff Writer

Three more victims of two weekend plane crashes near Van Nuys Airport were identified Monday, and homeowner leaders seized upon the accidents as evidence that the airport needs to further reduce flights.

“This airport is simply too busy for a residential community,” said Donald Schultz of Van Nuys, president of Ban Airport Noise. “And these disasters add to the proof.”

Gerald Silver, president of Homeowners of Encino, said that bringing the airport into compliance with new state airport noise laws would substantially reduce the number of flights, thereby reducing noise and the risk to residents.

The airport is seeking a variance from the noise laws, which went into effect Jan. 1.

Flights Already Down

An airport spokeswoman said flights already have decreased significantly in recent years and that economic factors are expected to cut the numbers further without any action by the Los Angeles City Department of Airports.

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Meanwhile, authorities Monday identified the pilot and sole occupant of one of the two planes that crashed Saturday as John Gibson, a 37-year-old soap opera actor.

Also identified Monday were Donald S. Swanger, 39, of Chatsworth, and his daughter, Nicole Swanger, victims of the other crash. They were passengers in a Cessna 320 that went down in a cornfield near the Sepulveda Dam Recreation Area south of the airport, killing all six persons aboard.

Skimmed Over Heavy Traffic

Gibson was burned beyond recognition when his Socata Trinidad TB20 skimmed over heavy traffic on Roscoe Boulevard about 3:30 p.m. Saturday, hit a curb and exploded in flames, said Wayne Pollack, a National Transportation Safety Board investigator.

Witnesses said the small, single-engine plane was maneuvering to land about 15 seconds behind a giant C-130 military transport, which was landing on a parallel runway, Pollack said.

A spokesman for the coroner’s office said that positive identification of the victim could not be made before dental records are checked.

But Noel Blanc, son of comedian Mel Blanc and a longtime friend of Gibson, said authorities notified Gibson’s girlfriend late Saturday that the dead pilot was Gibson.

Acting Credits

Gibson appeared on “The Young and the Restless” and “One Life to Live,” Blanc said, and also worked as a stripper at Chippendale’s nightclub in West Los Angeles.

Blanc said Gibson, with whom he frequently flew, also was a certified helicopter flight instructor.

“Flying was his great love,” Blanc said. “He died doing what he most wanted to be doing at any given time.”

The pilot of the plane in the crash in the Sepulveda Dam area had been identified previously as Dr. Stanley Z. Daniels, 56, of Granada Hills, a medical examiner for the Federal Aviation Administration who certified pilots as physically fit to fly.

Other passengers in the plane were Donald Stern, 55, of Granada Hills and Bertran Stern, 47, of Mountain View.

The sixth passenger has been identified, but release of the victim’s name is being withheld pending notification of relatives, the coroner’s spokesman said.

Audrey Schutte, an investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, said the plane apparently was on approach to the airport about 5:30 p.m. when it went down.

She said the crash remains under investigation.

Anti-noise leader Schultz called for a reduction of 50% or more in the number of flights at the airport, with emphasis on eliminating training and recreational flights.

‘Too Congested’

“This is too congested an area for novice pilots to be practicing,” he said.

Encino homeowner leader Silver advocated a “firm curfew from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m.,” which he said “would cut flights substantially.”

Virginia Black, director of public relations for the airport department, said there were 492,000 takeoffs and landings at Van Nuys in 1985, down 14.5% from the year-earlier total of 576,000.

She said Van Nuys flights peaked at 618,000 in 1976.

Tom Winfrey, a Van Nuys Airport spokesman, attributed the decrease in flights to a cut in the use of private jets by cost-conscious corporations and the increased cost of liability insurance for airplane owners and builders.


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