Pilot walks away from East County plane crash unhurt

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SAN DIEGO -- A small plane crash-landed near an East County casino Thursday.

Cal Fire San Diego said the single-engine, private plane crashed near Jamul Casino around 10 a.m. After initial reports the pilot was hurt, Cal Fire clarified that he was able to walk away unharmed.

The pilot was the only person onboard after taking off from Gillespie Field, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. The plane was badly damaged. The pilot reported engine failure before the hard landing, officials said.

The plane crashed in a field, part of the Rancho Jamul Ecological Preserve near Route 94.

“I did see him while he was circling. According to him, the engine just failed and he did all the procedures trying to get it back online. It wouldn’t come back on," said Tracie Nelson with the California Department of Fish & Wildlife.

FAA records matched the aircraft's tail number to an experimental plane registered in Santee. The model was a Zenith Zodiac, a line of "light sport aircraft." The planes are put together from modular kits where hobbyists build the aircraft piece by piece in a garage or workshop.

The pilot remained at the crash site as FAA investigators arrived early in the afternoon before the plane was taken away.

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