The last name of pilot Jeffrey B. Welles was misspelled in previous versions of this story. It has been corrected below.
At 9:46 a.m. Thursday, the pilot of a single-engine aircraft radioed controllers at the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport.
“San Luis Traffic, Aeronca four seven five zero three, uh, we have an emergency,” the pilot, later identified as Jeffrey B. Welles, said in a calm and clear voice.
A few minutes later, the traffic control tower contacted a different aircraft that was in the area and requested the pilot follow Welles’ plane and see where it went down, according to a transcript of the conversation recorded by a local pilot not involved in the incident.
The pilot of the second aircraft radioed back to the traffic control tower at 9:49 a.m.: “He’s in the trees, north of Cal Poly We’re gonna, need, uh, a big response here.”
Welles’ aircraft, a 1943 vintage Aeronca model 0-58B, came to a rest in a creek bed on the Tartaglia Ranch in the 1200 block of Stenner Creek Road.
At one point, Welles was in serious but stable condition at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo. Hospital spokes-man Ron Yukelson said Welles was released late in the afternoon.
The condition of Welles’ passenger, an 86-year-old man from Paso Robles, whom authorities did not identify, was unknown. County/Cal Fire spokes-man Es Berliner said the two are not related.
Ian Gregor, communications manager for the Federal Aviation Administration’s Western-Pacific Region, said in an e-mailed update that one person was critically injured and the other seriously injured in the crash.
The plane is registered to Welles of Newport Beach, according to the FAA registry. He stored it at the Estrella WarBirds Museum in Paso Robles, said Jackie Brooks, a gift shop manager. It was the only aircraft of its kind displayed at the museum, she said.
The aircraft, also called a “Grasshopper,” was first ordered in 1941 by the Army to test the use of light aircraft for liaison and observation missions in direct support of ground forces during World War II, according to the description of the plane on the museum’s website.
The aircraft departed from Paso Robles, but its destination was unknown, Gregor said.
Cal Poly student Adam Ratcliffe said he was jogging on Stenner Creek Road when he saw the plane flying “really low.” He watched it fly into a grove of trees and heard a loud thud.
Ratcliffe said he ran over to the area and saw one man get out of the plane on his own, while another occupant was pulled out by emergency personnel. They were taken to Sierra Vista by San Luis Ambulance.
Andy Barker, a Cal Poly building inspector, said he arrived at the construction site of a new beef processing unit about 10 a.m. and was talking to some of the crew when he looked up and saw the plane “dipping.”
They initially thought the plane was crop dusting, Barker said, but then noticed it looked like an older military plane. It lost altitude quickly, and Barker said he got into a truck and called 911 while driving to the crash site.
The crash will be investigated by the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board.
An NTSB investigator arranged for a salvage company to remove the wreckage Thursday and take it to a salvage yard in Pearblossom, near Palmdale. He plans to examine the wreckage next week, according to Gregor.
Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.