Vintage plane hits center divider on 101 freeway

Sandberg: ‘a landing you can walk away from is a good one’

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Vintage plane hits center divider on 101 freeway

Due to the plane crash on the 101 freeway, many students were forced to wait until the traffic cleared for their parents to arrive and were offered pizza by the school

Due to the plane crash on the 101 freeway, many students were forced to wait until the traffic cleared for their parents to arrive and were offered pizza by the school

Olivia Buccieri

Due to the plane crash on the 101 freeway, many students were forced to wait until the traffic cleared for their parents to arrive and were offered pizza by the school

Olivia Buccieri

Olivia Buccieri

Due to the plane crash on the 101 freeway, many students were forced to wait until the traffic cleared for their parents to arrive and were offered pizza by the school

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A World War II era airplane made an emergency landing on the northbound lanes of the 101 freeway near Liberty Canyon shortly before 2 p.m. Oct. 24.

Alaska Airlines pilot Rob Sandberg and the plane, a close to 80-year-old North American AT-6 “Texan,” were reported to have taken off from Van Nuys Airport during a routine practice exercise, which he called a “10 to 15 minute ‘hop.’” The plane suffered engine failure, but due to Sandberg’s lifelong experience as a pilot, the aircraft landed with relatively minimal damage as it hit the center divider on the freeway to avoid harming other vehicles and people.

Sandberg said he heard popping noises while flying and lost power, all the while remaining calm in the situation.

“Instantly, when the engine came apart, I knew that my one mission, my one goal for the entire event was to not hurt anybody or hurt anybody’s property,” Sandberg said. “This is my first crash landing, hopefully my last.”

According to the California Highway Patrol, the pilot veered to avoid colliding with a car ahead of him, causing the plane to hit the center divider of the freeway where the left wing burst into flames.

“Landing a plane on the 101 that’s in good condition without hitting anyone is pretty extraordinary,” Sandberg said. “I had to glide my airplane all the way from where it broke, 3,000 feet above the ground. It glided with no power all the way down to the ground.”

Sandberg, the current flight operations manager for the Condor Squadron Officer’s and Airmen’s Association in Van Nuys, began flying planes with his dad when he was 3-years-old, graduating to flight himself at the age of 7.

“My whole life I’ve been in and around airplanes. I had a connection with my dad who was a pilot. He was just a private pilot and I used to sit on his lap when I was four or five years old when he was flying airplanes,” Sandberg said. “It’s pretty much all I’ve known my whole life; it’s what I do professionally now, too.”

The plane, which was reported to have spilled gallons of highly flammable fuel and spread debris across the lanes of the 101, forced the closure of both sides of the freeway. According to ABC 7 News, the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration also arrived at the scene to investigate, even given that the crash was non-fatal.

“In the aviation community, the old adage is ‘a landing you can walk away from is a good one,’” Sandberg said. “To me, I don’t think I did anything extraordinary; I just did what anybody else with a pilot licence would have done.”

Photo courtesy of KTLA

Sandberg’s plane was used by military pilots during WWII and for pilot training after the war. Currently, Sandberg said he flies with his squadron for funeral flyovers in a plane formation called the “missing man” in order to “honor heroes of our nation’s military.”

Sandberg’s favorite place to fly to is Hawaii. Aside from work, he frequently flies small airplanes around California.

“I have lunch in Catalina or dinner up Santa Barbara,” Sandberg said. “My favorite thing would probably be flying in Southern California right at sunset.”

As the school day came to a close, Oak Park High School students awaited their parents. Students without cars were left to wait on campus. Students and faculty who drove home were stuck in deadlock traffic, particularly around Chesebro Road and Agoura Hills.

“Almost half of our students live outside of Oak Park,” Superintendent Tony Knight said.

Fortunately, the elementary schools had teacher conferences which ended at noon that day. If not, Knight noted, “We would maybe have thousands of elementary kids not picked up.”

“We’ve always told parents that if for some reason you can’t get here [school], we’ll take care of your kids,” Knight said. “We have everything we need.”

Knight and Principal Kevin Buchanan ordered pizzas for the roughly 50-60 kids stuck at the high school — Knight referred to it as turning an “inconvenience” into a “party.”

“It was really nice to have the pizza there, it was appreciated,” senior Michael Goldberg said.

In a press release Oct. 27, Condor Squadron President Chris Rushing wrote that the organization maintains operations within Federal Aviation Administration regulations and is “dedicated to preserving and honoring America’s Military aviation history.”

“The Condor Squadron would like to sincerely apologize any inconvenience suffered by commuters as a result of the accident,” Rushing wrote. “We absolutely understand the frustration and inconvenience that this has caused many of our fellow Southern California residents.”

“The accident aircraft was given its airworthiness certificate in 1958. It has been extensively rebuilt over the years, with components continually replaced, refurbished, and overhauled,” Rushing wrote. “The engine that failed was installed in 2011 and had less than 700 hours since it was replaced. In the interest of constantly improving aviation safety, the NTSB is currently investigating the cause of the failure.”

OPHS senior Juliette Gabai drove herself and her two siblings home from school where they “took the scenic route.”

“We obviously tried to use Maps and Waze and everything, and at the time, it told us the best way to go home was through Mulholland,” Gabai said. “The thing about Mulholland, is that you’re far in, you can’t just go somewhere else, you can’t turn a different way, you are stuck.”

Agoura High School junior Leila Reisbord lives less than a minute away from AHS, right by the Chesebro exit from the 101 freeway. Resibord said her mom called her and was concerned because, upon hearing the plane crash, she thought her daughter had crashed her car.

Despite the delay, Reisbord had a positive outlook on the situation.

“It made a 15-minute trip turn into a two and a half hour trip,” Reisbord said. “It was a real pain in the butt, but I got to look for new ways around Agoura.”

By 5 p.m., CHP had opened two southbound lanes and one northbound lane for those still stuck in 101 traffic. All lanes were reportedly reopened by 11 p.m., allowing traffic to begin to flow freely along both sides of the highway.

“Airplanes break … and you’re just always prepared for it and if anything like that ever happens again, I’ll have the experience to fall back on,” Sandberg said. “You can only practice it, but having done it in real life and successfully lived through it and not hurt anybody, I think it makes me better prepared if it happens next time.”

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About the Contributor
Olivia Buccieri, Editor-in-Chief

Olivia Buccieri is a senior at Oak Park High School. She is currently the Editor-in-Chief of the Oak Park Talon. She served as a senior staff writer her...

1 Comment

One Response to “Vintage plane hits center divider on 101 freeway”

  1. Linda Jacobson on November 8th, 2018 12:56 PM

    Thank you for the great article about the plane that made an emergency landing on the 101. I’ve read everything I can about the incident because the pilot, Rob Sandberg, is my son. Your article is by far the most accurate and well researched of any I’ve read. I appreciate your diligence and taking the time to get to know Rob. I’m sure it was a huge problem for everyone in the community. For us, it was a really great day, considering Rob’s safety. Your school sounds like a good place. It sure has some terrific reporters!

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