NTSB report on fatal midair crash details eyewitness accounts

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Wreckage of a Cessna near Brown Field in Otay Mesa

SAN DIEGO — A witness to the midair collision over Otay Mesa that killed five men told investigators the pilots “did not appear to have made any avoidance actions,” according to a preliminary National Transportation Safety Board report.

The twin-engine Sabreliner collided with a Cessna 172 about a mile northeast of Brown Field Municipal Airport in the late morning hours of Aug. 16. The victims were identified as 55-year-old Michael Copeland of San Diego — the sole occupant of the Cessna — and Sabreliner occupants John Kovach, 34; Carlos Palos, 40; and Jeff Percy, 41; all residents of the Kern County town of Mojave; and James Hale, 66, of Adelanto in San Bernardino County.

The Sabreliner jet was leased by aerospace and defense company BAE Systems, and the Cessna was registered to Plus One Flyers, Inc., of San Diego, according to the NTSB report. Occupants of both aircraft had been in contact with air traffic controllers before the crash.

Witnesses saw both planes “on the downwind leg of the traffic pattern” at Brown Field.

“The witnesses turned momentarily, but then observed an explosion followed by sections of the airplanes falling to the ground,” according to the NTSB.

Another witness, who saw the crash from an area two miles from the airport, said the Cessna was flying away from the airport as the jet was on descent to the airport. Both planes had been flying toward each other at the same altitude.

“He stated that both airplanes did not appear to have made any avoidance actions prior to the collision,” according to the report. “After the collision, the smaller airplane broke apart; the larger airplane banked left, impacted the ground and exploded.”

The wreckage of the jet ended up west of Harvest Road. The Cessna went down in an open-space preserve about 400 feet away.

Aircraft wreckage was strewn across a field near R.J. Donovan Correction Center and sparked several brush fires. Authorities said parts of the Sabreliner, including its right wing, were mixed in with fragments from the smaller plane.