The Los Angeles city attorney announced Monday that he is conducting a "criminal investigation" into reports that the pilot of a World War II-vintage fighter plane flew stunts in front of a commuter plane making a landing approach to Burbank Airport on Jan. 29.
"If it's found to be reckless flying, that pilot could face up to a $1,000 fine and six months in jail," said Mike Qualls, a spokesman for the city attorney's office.
Qualls said the commuter plane, a twin-engine Skywest Metroliner carrying three passengers and a two-man cockpit crew on a flight from San Diego, circled wide around the stunting P-51 Mustang fighter plane and then landed without incident at Burbank.
A Federal Aviation Administration source said the P-51 was tracked by radar to its home base at Van Nuys Airport, where FAA investigators interviewed the pilot a few hours later. "He gave a different version of what happened," the source said.
The FAA, the city attorney's office and Skywest declined to reveal the identity of either pilot.
The FAA routinely investigates all such "incident reports." This is only the second time the city attorney has begun a probe for criminal violations after alleged misconduct by a private pilot.
Last December, the city attorney's office launched a similar investigation into allegations that private pilot Roland P. Furman's plane entered the restricted airspace of the Los Angeles Terminal Control Area (TCA) on Aug. 31, a few minutes before the nearby collision between an Airmexico DC-9 and another light plane that claimed 82 lives.
The city attorney is still awaiting data from the FAA needed to complete that investigation, Qualls said.
The FAA investigation of that incident determined that Furman's flight did not contribute to the collision over Cerritos, but the agency ordered his license suspended for 120 days for flying in restricted airspace. Furman has appealed that order, contending that his plane did not enter the TCA.
On Jan. 15, a Skywest turboprop Metroliner like the one involved in the Jan. 29 incident collided with a small private plane over Utah as the commuter plane was preparing to land at Salt Lake City International Airport. All 10 people aboard the two aircraft were killed.
Dan Rymer, a spokesman at Skywest headquarters in St. George, Utah, said that because of the Salt Lake City collision his firm was "extremely concerned" about the Jan. 29 incident.
Rymer said the line's Flight 1606 was heading east at about 5,000 feet over the Woodland Hills area at about 10:40 a.m. on Jan. 29 when the pilot saw the sporty, piston-engine fighter plane flying aerobatically about a mile ahead.
"It was close enough to startle the crew," Rymer said. "The P-51 climbed vertically from about 4,500 feet, did a full roll at 5,300, then dove out of sight through a cloud bank. . . . Thirty seconds later, our pilot saw it rolling and climbing back up through the cloud deck, and then spiraling back down through it again."
Rymer said that after notifying Burbank controllers, the Skywest pilot "turned to the right and flew a detour, waiting for the P-51 to exit the area."
After a routine, west-to-east landing on one of the two main runways at Burbank Airport, the Skywest pilot filed the incident report that led to the investigations.
The FAA revoked the operating certificate of a Hawthorne-based air cargo carrier for alleged violations of regulations. Page 6.