A small plane crashed onto a car on a highway north of San Diego Saturday, killing one person in the car and injuring five others, the California Highway Patrol said.
The incident happened around 9 a.m. PT (noon ET) in Fallbrook on Interstate 15 North, about 50 miles from San Diego County when a single-engine, fixed-wing aircraft hit a Nissan, CHP spokesman Officer Chris Parent told NBC News.
One person in the car died, and the three other occupants were taken to the hospital with minor to moderate injuries, Parent said. The pilot and the passenger of the plane were transported to the hospital with major injuries.
NBC San Diego reported the woman who was killed was Antoinette Frances Isbelle, 38, who was sitting in the back of the car. The plane crashed into the car after the 42-year-old male driver pulled over to sync his Bluetooth, the station said.
The driver of the car suffered lacerations above his eye, the station reported. Two other passengers in the car, a 45-year-old woman and a 36-year-old man, were also injured and taken to a hospital, according to NBC San Diego.
The pilot was identified by authorities as Dennis Hogge, The Associated Press reported. The pilot suffered life-threatening severe head trauma, the CHP told NBC San Diego. His passenger, a woman in her 50s, sustained non-life-threatening injuries.
It does not appear that the plane's landing gear was engaged, Howard Plagens of the National Transportation Safety Board told reporters at the scene.
"The pilot may have been too busy to put it down, he may not have been able to put it down — we don’t know at this point," Plagens said. He said it appears the airplane may touched down multiple times before hitting the car.
The freeway may have been the best choice to attempt a landing if there was a mechanical problem, Plagens said. "He’s going to be looking for a place to land, and obviously with this rough terrain around here his options, depending on how high he was, are limited," Plagens said.
It was unclear what caused the plane to crash-land, but eyewitnesses said it appeared to be having mechanical issues, Parent said. "There are several witnesses who say the plane, without question, was in distress," Parent said.
Torrence Jenkins was traveling northbound on the highway when the crash happened.
"It hit a car in the back and skidded on the roadway" for what appeared to be at least 300 feet, he told NBC News.
"It could have been a lot worse," Jenkins said.
It isn't the first time the Lancair IV apparently landed on that highway.
Former Major League Baseball catcher Matt Nokes told NBC News that he believes the plane that crashed is one he used to own based on the type and identical tail number, and that he landed the plane safely on the same freeway in February of 2000 not far from the scene of Saturday’s crash.
"I just looked around, and it was all rolling hills," Nokes recalled. "Saw a break in the traffic and landed between the cars,” he said.
"We were fortunate," Nokes said. The emergency landing happened on the plane’s second flight, during a trip out of Carlsbad. He said the machinery was replaced and he went on to fly it regularly for four more years, but he never learned the cause of the fuel flow problem that prompted the 2000 landing.
Nokes said the plane, constructed by a master builder over four years, was a high-performance machine "like a BMW" when he had it. He sold the plane in 2004.
"Something must have gone horribly wrong," Nokes said. Nokes said he knows Hogge and described him as an "an excellent pilot" and master plane builder.