Plane Lands on Crowded Beach : No One Hurt, Fun Goes On
A single-engine plane made an emergency landing Tuesday near the shoreline of Huntington State Beach, causing hardly a ripple among the thousands of vacationing students who were spending spring break under crystal blue skies and hot sun.
Beach-goers and lifeguards at the state beach briefly stopped to marvel about 1 p.m. as Waldon Williams of Long Beach safely landed his rented plane between lifeguard Towers 11 and 12 on the sand near Newland Street.
“Amazingly, no one was hurt. It was really something,” said Ron Gamble, a seasonal lifeguard supervisor. “It just came in and it was pretty fast. . . . Either he was a really good pilot or (those on the beach) moved very fast.”
About 15,000 Present
An estimated 15,000 people were on the 2.2-mile stretch of state beach when the plane landed, Gamble said.
William Bash of Huntington Beach was surprised that Williams was able to “pull it off ‘cause there were so many people on the beach, but he did it--nice and smooth.”
Williams said the 9-year-old Cessna 172 that he rented from the Long Beach Flying Club did not seem to have any problems when he and his friend, John Williams of Los Alamitos, set out from Long Beach at noon, heading down the coast for San Juan Capistrano.
“We’d been flying it for about an hour and were heading back when the engine just quit. I don’t know why,” Waldon Williams said. “The plane was full of fuel, so we know it’s not that.”
Waldon Williams said that he and John Williams took about 2 minutes to discuss their landing options before setting the plane down at the northern end of the beach, which he said had the fewest people.
Williams’ landing is the second such feat in the county in the past 2 days. On Monday, a student pilot and his instructor walked away unhurt after their light plane crash-landed on a Buena Park street.
“Nothing like this has ever happened before with any of our planes,” said Candy Larned, owner of the Long Beach Flying Club.
Federal Aviation Administration officials will investigate the incident to ensure that there was no violation of regulations, according to spokeswoman Barbara Abels. A violation could result in suspension or revocation of Williams’ pilot certificate.
Lifeguards all along the coast reported that the summer-like weather Tuesday attracted well-behaved, summer-sized crowds to the sand, and some beach-goers even ventured into the surf.
The temperature on the sand was warm enough to make the 62-degree water feel good, said lifeguard Rob Wyatt in Newport Beach, where an estimated 80,000 gathered. “The water’s warmed up. They were definitely in the water,” he added.
Everyone who ventured outside Tuesday knew it was warm, and the meteorologists confirmed it. According to WeatherData, which supplies weather information to The Times, the high in the county Tuesday was 87 degrees in San Clemente. San Juan Capistrano reached 86 degrees, Santa Ana reported 85 and El Toro 82. Newport Beach registered 74 degrees.
“We went to Laguna (Beach) on Sunday and came here (to Balboa) today because we heard it was so much fun,” said Heather Nelson, who drove in from the University of Utah along with five friends. “The weather is great and there’s tons to do here. And the people are pretty nice, too.”
“It’s more crowded this year. There are more girls around wearing bathing suits and more people around for partying,” said 16-year-old Harry Gousha of Newport Beach. Gousha said he spends the mornings of his weeklong break skateboarding, afternoons boogie-boarding and evenings partying.
The sun and the girls brought Randy Ealy and Richie Michelson, both 19, down to Balboa from rainy Oregon. “We got here at 11 (a.m.) and we’re gonna stay until the sun goes down,” Ealy said. “All the people--the girls--dress to look good and like to show off their bodies. We don’t see that in Oregon.”
While some visitors said that the numbers flocking to the beaches have increased since last year, local police and business owners disagreed, saying that the students have ventured further east.
“It’s been a real dead spring break,” said Harry Rasmussen of the Ocean Front Wheel Works on Balboa. “Ever since the crackdown 2 years ago, it’s curbed business a lot. . . . I think it’s made them go to Palm Springs instead of here.” (There were some rioting and a number of arrests during the Fourth of July holiday in 1986, and numerous arrests on the summer holiday a year later.)
“It’s gotten calmer in the last few years. . . . It hasn’t been as good during Easter week like before,” said Huntington Beach Police Sgt. Lloyd Edwards. “The kids seem to be going out to Palm Springs and leaving this place nice and peaceful, just the way we like it.”
Although Newport Beach police do not believe that they will have any problems during this spring break, they are taking precautionary steps and setting up traffic-control checkpoints throughout the Balboa Peninsula area to limit the number of cruisers, Lt. Tim Noah said.
But nothing can stop a student from having a good time, declared Sandra Escamilla, 17, of Glendale. The high school student and five friends rented a house on Balboa Island for their week’s vacation, and use roller skates to get around town.
“This has made our vacation terrific,” she said. “You can get anywhere around the island with no problem. And it makes meeting people lots more fun.”
“When they say hi, we say goodby and skate away,” she giggled.
Times staff writer Mark Landsbaum contributed to this story.