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Men Apparently Unhurt After 4-Hour Ordeal in Plane Stuck in Wires

February 12, 1986

ONTARIO, Calif. (AP) _ A small plane got snarled in high-voltage lines while coming in for a landing, and the two men inside dangled upside-down 80 feet above ground for four hours before being rescued, officials said today.

As local television stations broadcast live coverage of the rescue, the pilot and his passenger inched their way to safety across the underside of the plane’s wing and into the arms of firefighters late Tuesday and early today.

The single-engine plane came in too low while landing at Ontario International Airport, about 40 miles east of Los Angeles, at 7:40 p.m., said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman.

It was snared by one of two power lines, flipped, and came to an unsteady stop, dangling belly-up by its propeller and the front landing gear, police said. Power to the 220,000-volt lines was automatically cut when the plane hit them, said Southern California Edison Co. spokesman Ed Arnott.

Pilot Dean Plath, 58, of Tustin and Clarence ″Ed″ Washburn, of Whittier were checked into Ontario Community Hospital for observation, but appeared to be in good shape, said nursing supervisor Carmen Alaimo.

″The passenger complained of numbness in the legs,″ said Ontario police Officer Jerry Autrey, ″but then they were hanging in the aircraft upside down for four hours.″

Plath was practicing night flying, said his wife, Gloria.

″Both men are very, very conservative,″ she said. ″I can’t believe they would have an accident like this.″

″When we first got there, they wanted to jump,″ a fire department dispatcher said shortly after rescuers arrived at the scene, about two miles from the runway. ″We had to quickly find a bullhorn and tell them not to.″

Firefighters shouted questions and instructions to the men, who responded by blinking a flashlight - one flash for yes, two for no - because the rescuers couldn’t hear them.

As the men dangled from their seatbelts, firefighters and utility workers used a huge crane and a platform on a hydraulic lift to steady the upside-down plane. Firefighters in a bucket atop another lift edged slowly toward the pinioned plane.

At 11:40 p.m., Plath, a safety rope wrapped around him, crawled cautiously across a wing to safety. He was taken to the ground, then the bucket returned to get Washburn, just minutes past midnight.

At the crash site early today, the plane was being supported by a crane while firefighters and power company linemen tried to untangle three or four power lines wrapped around the propeller, said Bob Hull, spokesman for Southern California Edison Co.

The plane had been on a 25-mile flight from Fullerton, and the pilot was in touch with the airport tower when he ran into the power lines, said an FAA duty officer who refused to give his name.

The accident did not cause a blackout, but lights blinked across a wide area as power was automatically switched to another circuit, said Arnott.

The FAA will investigate the accident, said another duty officer who insisted on anonymity.

Update hourly