A man was killed Saturday when the plane he was in collided with a pickup near a hangar following a reported “hard” landing at Oakdale Airport.
About 10:30 a.m., witnesses said they saw the plane traveling east toward the airport.
Battalion Chief Eric DeHart of the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District said the plane is a Challenger II CWS, which he described as an “experimental plane.” He said it had been flying in the area for about 30 minutes before landing.
It was a single-engine plane, according to a news release from the Oakdale Police Department. Witnesses told police there may have been engine trouble prior to landing. The victim’s name is being withheld until officials can notify his family.
Johnny Freitas, a contractor working on a house on nearby Wren Road, said he saw the plane coming in slowly before making a landing he described as “a little hard.” He has been working to get his helicopter pilot’s license and had been watching planes come in and out while doing concrete work at the home over the past week.
“I noticed something odd about that plane … he was coming in slow,” Freitas said. “He landed very close to the edge of the runway when he came in, bounced a few times and then it looked like he had control, so I went back to work. Then I heard a bang, and that’s when we saw some smoke and jumped in the pickup and got over as fast as we could to try to help in any way we could, but it was too late.”
Freitas and another contractor, Cameron Abicht, drove up a dirt road to the airport and hopped a chain-link fence.
“Once we rounded the corner and got on the taxiway, that is when we felt the heat,” Abicht said. The plane and pickup were on fire. “Obviously, you have two fuel tanks; stuff was popping and flying up in the air, there were flames everywhere.”
They saw the man moving and tried to get to him but the fire was too intense. A man who’d been working on his plane in the neighboring hangar used a fire extinguisher to no avail.
Firefighters with Stanislaus Consolidated arrived quickly and kept the flames from extending into the nearby hangar.
As Freitas and Abicht waited to talk to authorities, they thought mostly about the man’s family and reflected on how his day started “enjoying the fruits of his labor” on a beautiful, sunny Saturday.
“It was something I could have gone without seeing,” Abicht said. “It was very, very sad, very surreal. I just feel bad for his family. That is the hardest part.”