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Plane Crashes Onto Crowded Freeway; One Dead

November 30, 1987

LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) _ A light plane crashed onto a freeway crowded with holiday travelers, killing a passenger, critically injuring the pilot and causing a five-car pileup, authorities said.

Traffic was backed up for 10 miles after the single-engine plane smashed into the concrete center divider on Interstate 405 at 6:43 p.m. Sunday. But authorities marveled that the plane missed cars and there weren’t any serious injuries reported among the motorists involved in accidents.

″I knew we were going to get hit,″ said Beth Kuecker, 35, of Laguna Beach, who was a passenger in a car damaged either by bits of wreckage or the force of the fireball that erupted from the plane.

″I looked up to the right and saw the plane turn sideways,″ Ms. Kuecker said. ″... I put my hand up in front of my eyes. I thought we were going to die.″

Ms. Kuecker and the driver, Sandra Sisson, 46, escaped unharmed, and another driver doused the flames with a fire extingusher.

The Piper Malibu PA-46 crashed about a half-mile from the Long Beach Municipal Airport after the pilot reported smoke in the cockpit, said Gary Mucho of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Signal Hill police Officer Steve Owens watched from a nearby hill as the plane ″nose-dived into the freeway″ and ″exploded in a big ball of fire.″

The freeway was closed in both directions near the crash scene, 25 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, and traffic backed up for 10 miles both north and south. One northbound lane remained closed early today, California Highway Patrol dispatcher Yvonne Cotroneo said.

The pilot, identified by authorities as Dennis Paboojian, 46, of Cupertino, was reported in critical condition today at Torrance Memorial Hospital’s burn unit with third-degree burns over 65 percent of his body.

His passenger, John Spiesman, 62, of Los Gatos, also a licensed pilot, was killed on impact, police Lt. David Buchanan said.

The plane was en route from Palomar Airport in San Diego County to San Jose Airport.