Crash in Chehalis may have been pilot's first flight on plane

CHEHALIS, Wash. -- The pilot who died in a small plane crash in Chehalis Tuesday night may have been on his first flight since buying the vintage replica a few months ago. No one on the ground was hurt despite being near busy Interstate-5 and a huge shopping center.

An investigator was at the crash site Wednesday afternoon -- or what's left of it. The small plane disintegrated when it hit the ground.

The plane nose-dived into a couple of unoccupied trucks in the car repair shop's parking lot. It shook the neighborhood.

"I heard a big 'boom,' " said neighbor Rosa Rounsley. "Like somebody was like a bomb."

But luckily no one on the ground was hurt.

"It was nearby a residence, nearby a business, but didn't affect either one," said Chehalis police chief Glenn Schaffer.

The plane was a home-built Loehle P-5151 'Midget Mustang' which is a 3/4th scale model of the WWII Mustang. The airport manager Allyn Roe said the pilot is in his 50s and from Centralia. He had just purchased the aircraft a few months ago and had just rented a hangar at the Chehalis-Centralia Airport. The owner brought it in on a trailer and put the wings on recently. This may have been his first flight with the wood and fabric airplane.

"They watched it take off," Schaffer said of a witness. "It really didn't make it more than a quarter-mile across the freeway before it dropped into the parking lot."

Witnesses reported hearing the engine sputter. Investigators may have trouble finding out why because there's so little left of the P5151.

"I was actually surprised not to see more damage, more wreckage left over," said neighbor Andy Warren. "It seems like it was pretty instant."

The airport was shut down for a time while they checked to see if anything had fallen off the plane as it was taking off. It was back open Wednesday as pilots hope to find out more why that flight turned out so tragic.

The coroner said the pilot's name won't be made public until positive identification is made, which will take dental records.