MISSION VIEJO (AP) — A pilot whose small plane crashed and burst into flames on a Southern California freeway over the summer said he realized he was trapped after he made sure his wife could get out of the burning aircraft.
Frank Pisano said Sunday that his legs were stuck and he had no feeling from the waist down as the plane burned around him on Interstate 405 in Orange County.
“When I was trapped, I was ready to die,” he told a crowd of about 250 people at Mount of Olives Church in Mission Viejo. “I put my head down and prayed. It was a really peaceful feeling.”
Pisano and his wife, Janan, were pulled from the wreckage by an off-duty firefighter and spent weeks in a hospital being treated for injuries that included spinal fractures — but no burns. They’re expected to make a full recovery. Nobody on the ground was hurt.
The Pisanos wore back braces Sunday as they described their ordeal publicly for the first time during the appearance titled “Miracle on the 405,” the Orange County Register reported.
They were the only people aboard the 1975 twin-engine Cessna 310R that crashed June 30 on the freeway just short of John Wayne Airport, where it had just taken off for a trip to Arizona.
At about 400 feet elevation, the right engine sputtered and quit and Frank Pisano said he had to make a split-second decision: Either land the plane at Newport Beach Golf Club or try to make it back to the runway, where he felt the emergency response would be quicker.
He declared a mayday.
“That’s something that no pilot ever wants to do,” he said. “As a pilot, you learn to fly the plane first and talk second.”
A pilot for 27 years, he knew at about 200 feet above ground that the plane was too low to make it back to the runway.
He told his wife to brace for impact.
“There wasn’t much I could do and I knew from flying with Frank all these years that it was important to stay quiet so he could communicate to the tower,” she said. “When he said that, that was when I opened my eyes.”
It is suspected the crash was caused by a malfunction involving fuel selector switches, Frank Pisano said. The National Transportation Safety Board should determine the cause within nine months, he said.