Search for possible survivors of midair crash near Los Angeles suspended

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The Coast Guard on Saturday suspended the ocean search for three persons missing after a mid-air collision involving two small planes off Southern California.

The search from 3:30 p.m. Friday to 9:15 a.m. Saturday with two 87-foot cutters found no survivors, the Coast Guard said.

Searchers were going to turn their attention to a recovery operation, hunting for bodies and wreckage with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department leading the effort with divers and sonar.

The collision occurred near the Port of Los Angeles at about 3:30 p.m. Friday afternoon. There was no word on what may have caused the accident.

Men ages 61 and 81 were believed to be aboard one plane, a Beechcraft. Coast Guard Capt. Jennifer Williams said wreckage and a pilot’s logbook have been found from that plane.

The other plane – a Citabria – was being flown by a 72-year-old woman. Air traffic controllers saw two aircraft apparently run into each other on radar, leading authorities to believe they may have collided. There forecast for Friday was clear and sunny.

"We don't want to give up until we really feel that there's no chance," Williams said, "that we haven't scanned the area, searched the whole area and looked for survivors."

The collision occurred about two miles outside the entrance to the port, where water depths were 80 feet to 90 feet. The LA Daily News reported that two identification numbers were recovered.

The crash site was near the Angels Gate light, a lighthouse at the San Pedro Breakwater that is on the National Register of Historic Places. The area is popular for flight students.

Richard Garnett, chief flight instructor with the Long Beach Flying Club, said the pilots practice in an area that is 10 to 20 square miles and at altitudes ranging from 1,000 to 4,000 feet. On a typical day, there will be three or four planes in the air at the same time.

"So with the amount of activity, actually, I think we've been fortunate," he said. "We are really diligent. I don't know why, what happened in this situation."

Friday's midair collision was not the first in the area.

In 2001, four people died when two Cessna airplanes carrying instructors and students collided 1,000 feet above the harbor. In 1986, two small planes flown by students collided. But the aircraft managed to return to their airports, and the four people on board escaped injury.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.