Small plane crashes near San Luis Obispo

A single-engine aircraft crashed into Paragon vineyard in the Edna Valley south of San Luis Obispo on Thursday, but the pilot, the sole occupant, was uninjured.

The pilot had a seatbelt on at the time of the crash. “He had not even a scrape on him. He seems fine,” sheriff’s Deputy Joshua Beene said. Even so, San Luis Ambulance took him to a local hospital for evaluation.

County/Cal Fire would not disclose the name of the pilot, but the aircraft is registered to Clifford Elliott of San Luis Obispo, according to federal records.

Cal Fire Capt. Mike Cameron said the pilot successfully brought the single-engine plane down after he reported engine trouble.

Pilot Mike Levine of Paso Robles, who was in another aircraft preparing to land at San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport at the time of the crash, said that he heard the air traffic controller say over the radio to the distressed pilot, “Are you going to make the airport?” and the pilot said he could not.

The exact time of the crash was not disclosed, but it likely happened between 12:30 and 1 p.m.

The Piper Cherokee 235 crashed at the far edge of a 78-acre parcel of chardonnay vines directly across from the Edna Valley Vineyard tasting room on Biddle Ranch Road off Highway 227.

Tasting-room employees — who had a distant but direct view of the crash as it occurred in the vineyards before them — said company policy kept them from talking to a reporter.

Air traffic controllers were able to see the crash scene from their tower at the airport and directed rescuers to the location.

Emergency personnel reported a strong odor of fuel, which quickly evaporated in the sunny field.

At the crash site, the aircraft’s wings were torn and gnarled, having snagged wires and grapevines for nearly 100 feet before the plane skidded to a stop.

Cameron said the aircraft was probably slowed down by the wires and vine stumps.

Paragon vineyard co-owner Michael Blaney — who did not witness the crash — said the plant loss was not significant and that he was “just glad everyone’s OK.”

Cal Fire’s Cameron said aircraft mechanical problems are rare and that of the 12 or so other aircraft distress calls he’s responded to in the past year, none resulted in a crash.

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