A World War II-era, single-engine plane piloted by a Newport Beach man crashed into a San Luis Obispo creek Thursday morning, leaving him relatively unscathed but his passenger seriously injured, San Luis Obispo County officials said.
The pilot, Jeffrey Bayne Welles, 66, put out an emergency radio message to San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport air traffic controllers about 9:50 a.m. saying his plane was going to crash. Within minutes firefighters were headed toward the crash site in a dry creek bed near the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo campus, where witnesses reported that the plane had torn through some eucalyptus trees then smashed into the ground, said Cal FIRE spokeswoman Es Berliner.
"They had engine failure and tried to make the landing, but it didn't go that smoothly," said Sue Dollemore, spokeswoman for the Estrella Warbird Museum in Paso Robles, the town about 30 miles north of the crash site where the vintage plane usually was stored.
The aircraft came down on a private ranch near the university campus in the Central California coastal city. Welles and his passenger, an unidentified 86-year-old man, were taken to a local hospital.
Welles was expected to be discharged from the hospital Thursday night. His passenger was expected to remain in the hospital, Dollemore said.
Ian Gregor, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration's regional office in Los Angeles, said in an e-mail sent to the Daily Pilot on Thursday that the plane hit trees before crashing four miles northwest of the San Luis Obispo airport.
FAA investigators were at the crash site. The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board would be investigating it, with the NTSB as the lead investigative agency, Gregor wrote in the e-mail.
Cal Poly building inspector Andy Barker was on campus when he looked up and saw the plane flying low overhead, he told the Tribune, San Luis Obispo's newspaper.
Barker told the Tribune he and other witnesses mistook the plane for a crop duster before realizing that it was an old military plane. Barker said he dialed 911 and drove to the crash site, where he saw the pilot walk away from the crash and firefighters remove the passenger from the wreckage.
Authorities weren't clear on where the plane took off from or where it was headed. Welles owns the plane, an Aeronca 0-58B built in 1943, according to FAA aircraft records.
Calls to a phone number listed under Welles' Orange County voter registration record and a message left by a reporter at his Newport Beach address were not returned Thursday. Both Welles' voter registration record and private pilot's certification had his surname spelled as "Welles," while the registration record for the wrecked plane had the owner's name spelled as "Wells."