The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a preliminary accident report pertaining to a plane crash that killed one man and severely injured another late last month in Oceanside.
According to the report, no flight plan was submitted before the single-engine Piper Cherokee Warrior took off from the Oceanside Municipal Airport amid dark and foggy conditions the night of Jan. 28.
A witness told the NTSB he observed the plane take off at around 8:52 p.m. and noticed that it appeared to be lower than normal. He lost sight of the plane once it passed the tree line but heard what sounded like a car crash minutes later.
The witness called 911 at 9 p.m.
Oceanside Police Department officers responded to the report but were unable to find the wreckage. The plane had crashed just below the ridgeline of a 210-foot hill above State Route 76. The witness said the hillside was invisible due to a low layer of fog, according to the report.
The airport manager told NBC 7 that the fog created less than a mile of visibility that night.
The next morning at around 7:15 a.m., more than 10 hours after the crash was first reported, OPD received another 911 call from a driver on SR-76 who spotted the wreckage.
Emergency crews responded again and found the plane about 10 to 20 feet below the ridgeline. Investigators said the crash site was located half a mile west of the airport.
The pilot, Luke Austin Hutchison, 25, survived the impact and was airlifted to an area hospital. The San Diego County Sheriff's Department (SDSO) helicopter pilot at the controls during the daring rescue operation said he assumed there were no survivors when he first saw the wreckage from the air.
"That whole fuselage came apart," SDSO Copter 11 pilot Cpl. Tony Weber said. "They hit pretty hard."
Cpl. Weber and crews on the ground first thought they would hoist Hutchison up into the helicopter, but the pilot of 28 years saw a potential landing spot on the ridge and proved his mettle.
Weber said only about three-quarters of his landing skids were in contact with the ground. He used hand controls inside the cockpit to balance the helicopter while crews loaded Hutchison inside, a move he attributed entirely to "feel."
Hutchison was flown to the Oceanside airport, transferred to a medical helicopter and was then flown to Scripps La Jolla Hospital.
NBC 7 learned Hutchison attended San Diego State University from 2015-2017 and is a certified commercial pilot.
The man who was killed in the crash, Raymond Allen Petty, Jr., 58, of Yorba Linda, was a pilot-rated passenger, according to the NTSB report.
Petty's family told NBC 7 in the days following the crash that he was a licensed pilot but wasn't certified to fly in those weather conditions. They also said that he had let his pilot registration lapse.
Piper Cherokee Warrior planes have dual controls and are designed for flight training.
The plane did not catch fire on impact and remained mostly intact -- two factors that the NTSB said would help unravel the mystery.
The cause of the crash has yet to be determined. According to the NTSB report, investigators didn't find any "obvious discrepancies" at the wreckage site.
NTSB investigator Tealeye Cornejo said it was a high-energy takeoff, and the plane was traveling at a faster airspeed to get off the ground but may have failed to get above the cliff.
Cornejo is leading the NTSB investigation with assistance from the Federal Aviation Administration, Piper Aircraft Inc., and Lycoming Engines.
Petty and Hutchison were renting the aircraft, according to the report. It was registered to two co-owners out of Vista. Petty's family said the plane was being stored at Hawthorne Municipal Airport near LAX and figured that's where the two were headed, but no flight plan was submitted and the NTSB report says their destination is unknown.