California Highway Patrol pilot killed in Southern California plane crash

IMPERIAL, Calif. (AP) — A highway patrol pilot flying to monitor freeway speeders was killed when his aircraft crashed in Southern California, officials said Saturday.

Officer Danny Benavides, 39, was flying solo when his plane went down about 9:30 a.m. Friday in a desert area near Highway 78 and Split Mountain Road in Imperial County, the patrol said in a news release.

It said the patrol communication center lost contact with the pilot and called for a regional search that involved both military and law enforcement personnel.

Wreckage of the aircraft was spotted about 4 p.m. Benavides, a 13-year patrol officer, was pronounced dead at the scene.

An investigation was under way to determine the cause of the crash.

The CHP news release said Benavides had just finished working one speed detail and was en route to another on Interstate 8 when he crashed.

Benavides had been assigned to the patrol's border division air operations unit as a pilot.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he was "deeply saddened" to learn of the crash.

"Officer Benavides dedicated his life to ensuring the safety and security of California residents, and his honorable service will forever be remembered," the governor said in a statement Saturday. "Our thoughts and prayers are with Officer Benavides' family and friends during this difficult time."

Benavides is survived by his wife and a daughter.