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Plane Loses Power, Collides With Car on Highway

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After losing power, a small, experimental plane on its second test flight collided Saturday with a car on California 126 in Santa Paula--but the pilot and the car’s driver and passengers emerged virtually unscathed.

Daniel Gray, 41, a Santa Paula resident and a pilot for United Airlines, survived the emergency landing and crash with only scratches and bruises to his face, authorities said.

An adult and three children in the car received minor injuries and were taken to Santa Paula Memorial Hospital, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Gray, who was flying solo, built the single-engine aircraft with the help of a friend. He was on his second test flight of the day and returning to Santa Paula Airport at about 4:30 p.m. when he lost power at about 200 feet, California Highway Patrol Officer James Hardy said.

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Hardy said Gray decided to land on the eastbound side of California 126, east of California 150. After noticing an oncoming car, he attempted to switch to the westbound side but was too late.

He touched down on the far eastbound lane and skidded west into a Honda Civic, whose driver, investigators say, appeared to be trying to avoid the collision by driving along the center divider.

After hitting the car, the plane tore through the shrubbery dividing the highway and crossed the westbound lanes before crashing into the 12th Street overpass, about 300 feet away.

Investigators say Gray climbed from the wreckage and was walking near the crash site when they arrived.

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Norman Howell, a friend of Gray’s who was helping him test the new plane, said the aircraft was designed to withstand such a crash.

“Although the aircraft looks like a mess, the extent of his [Gray’s] injuries were some cuts and bruises,” Howell said. “The plane was built with Kevlar, that’s the stuff they make bullet-proof vests out of.”

Officials are investigating why Gray’s engine lost power, but Howell, a U.S. Air Force test pilot, said he believes Saturday’s high temperatures caused the engine’s fuel to boil, which stalled the engine.

Howell said Gray’s first attempt to test his new plane from Camarillo Airport earlier in the day proved considerably more successful.

“His first flight was flawless,” he said. “Very clean.”


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