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Mon, Feb 05, 2007

Vintage Biplanes Collide Off CA Coast

Pilots Safe, Aircraft Damaged

Two vintage biplanes, a 1942 Boeing Stearman and a 1940 Army-green Waco UPF-7, collided about a mile off the Palos Verdes Peninsula Saturday afternoon. Both took off from Torrance Municipal Airport.

Airport officials reported that the propeller of the Stearman apparently clipped the back side of the Waco not long after it and a third vintage plane left the airport.

Nobody was seriously injured, although the Waco pilot was taken to a hospital for examination and then released. Although the Stearman's propeller was damaged, the pilot managed to return to Torrance Airport, about seven miles away, where he landed safety, according to FAA spokesman Ian Gregor.

According to one report, Ralph Baxter, 82, a former Navy and airline pilot, was performing acrobatics in his 1940 Waco when his plane was struck by the Stearman.

Even though the plane's tail was partially shredded, Baxter steered the Waco toward shore, where it landed in shallow water and flipped over when one of its wings struck the sand, said Melissa Kelley, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles city Fire Department.

Ron Holmes had come to the beach to windsurf when he noticed the Waco flying very low to the shore.

"I thought, man, he's flying at a stall speed," Holmes said

Lifeguards removed Baxter's seatbelt and he was able to walk to the shore, said Kelley. He was taken to the hospital and then released.

"He said that he was an acrobatic pilot" and the area is known as one where pilots can practice aerobatics, Kelley said. After the accident, the third pilot circled the area to help guide rescue crews, said a Torrance fire captain.

"These guys all know each other," he said. "There is a group of them who have been friends for years." When fire crews arrived, he added, Haggard and others anxiously awaited at the airport for word about Baxter and his biplane.

"When word came back from the tower that their friend was okay, they all were cheering," he said. The planes were flying according to visual flight rules, which require that the pilots "see and be seen," said Gregor.

Pilots are not required to communicate with air traffic control in the area, and it is a popular spot for recreational flying. The cause of the accident is under investigation by the NTSB.

FMI: www.ntsb.gov, www.torrance.com/torranceairport

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