Fatal Plane Crash in Southern California Prison Yard Kills One

April 24, 2019

NORCO, Calif. — A one-of-its-kind flying wing aircraft crashed and burst into flames in the exercise yard of a Southern California prison on Monday, killing at least one person, authorities said.

The Northrop N-9M crashed around midday “under unknown circumstance” at the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco shortly after takeoff from nearby Chino Airport, said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer.

The pilot was the only person on board the historic aircraft, Kenitzer said.

Riverside County sheriff’s officials couldn’t immediately confirm the pilot’s death but said the crash was fatal. Nobody on the ground was seriously hurt, although one inmate received scratches, said the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Television news footage showed debris spread across a scorched patch of empty yard at the prison about 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of downtown Los Angeles.

Several people in the area reported hearing a loud noise and then seeing smoke rising into the air.

Susan Fracol, who watched the plane go down, told reporters it was “heartbreaking” to witness.

The N-9M was owned by the Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reported. It was the last remaining of the four Northrop N9M-series flying wings, with “pusher” prop engines developed in the 1940s by aviation pioneer Jack Northrop as a predecessor to what he hoped would be a full-size heavy bomber. That program was canceled, but many years later the flying wing concept resurfaced as what became the B-2 stealth bomber.

The single-seat plane was returned to flying condition in 1994. The Planes of Fame museum was preparing for an air show next month. The museum confirmed on its website that a pilot died and the plane was lost.

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the crash, Kenitzer said.

The medium security prison houses about 2,700 inmates.

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