James Rebbeck and Darrell Peeples had only recently met but, from what friends and relatives say, they could easily have become fast friends.
Rebbeck and Peeples were airplane freaks. Nearly every minute that they weren't at their jobs, they were flying. And when they weren't in the air, they talked about their planes.
Rebbeck, a Lomita contractor, and Peeples, a Long Beach police officer, were enjoying their passion last Saturday when the homemade, single-engine plane they were flying fell into the ocean about four miles off the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
Both men are presumed dead, although their bodies have not been recovered.
The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the crash of the Thorp T-18. FAA officials refused to discuss the investigation, but the probe could be difficult because the Coast Guard was able to recover only the plane's two seats and a few other fragments.
The airplane, which is assembled from a kit, passed inspection when it was built about one year ago, according to FAA spokeswoman Barbara Abels. An airport employee, who asked not to be named, said the plane had been flown regularly during the last year and had no mechanical problems.
Peeples had gone to Compton Airport Saturday intent on buying the single-engine airplane from a third man, who built it about a year ago, said Peeples' girlfriend, Penny Senzig. The owner of the plane, who has not been identified, regularly let Rebbeck "exercise" the T-18 and Saturday asked him to take Peeples up for a familiarization flight, the airport employee said.
Just before taking off Saturday afternoon, Peeples called Senzig to say that he was about to go up in the T-18 to "play dogfight" with another plane. She said that Peeples sometimes enjoyed such aerobatic flying. "They would fly at each other and then bank off and fly in formation," she said.
The Compton Airport employee confirmed that another airplane took off at about the same time as the T-18, but Abels said "there is absolutely no indication at this time that any other aircraft was involved" in the crash.
Peeples, 41, and Rebbeck, 47, headed for the unrestricted airspace off Palos Verdes. But after less than an hour in the air, the two-seat craft plummeted into the ocean without issuing a distress signal, the Coast Guard said.
Rebbeck, a married father of one, was a Compton Airport regular. "Any extra time he had away from work, he was at the airport," a friend said. "We have our little fraternity here, and everybody sits around and talks aircraft.
"Some people go to bars. We just go to the airport."