LOS ANGELES — The day the plane fell from the sky, Eva Avalos was sipping coffee under her Mulberry tree.
Metal flashed in the corner of her eye as the Cessna 182 hit the ground in front of her house and exploded. The tree went up in flames and the heat singed her hair. Her two dogs vanished. She ran to the back of the house with her grandson as the fire spread, then crawled under the chain-link to her neighbor's yard.
Avalos, 68, had just a few bruises from that day in November 2020 and found her Chihuahua Juanita and shih tzu-poodle Max hiding safely in their dog house. But the pilot was killed, and she carries deep emotional scars that rattle her every time she hears the buzz of a plane approaching the runway of Whiteman Airport, just 50 yards from her Pacoima home.
In January, a pilot leaving Whiteman crashed on railroad tracks and barely escaped an oncoming Metrolink train, less than a mile away. Police pulled the bloodied man from the wreckage four seconds before the train barreled into it. Last month, another crashed just feet away from the busy 210 Freeway in Sylmar.
The accidents have provoked outrage among community activists who want the 1940s-era airport shut down. They argue the airport is unsafe and too close to houses and that the leaded fuel used by many planes pollutes the air in a largely low-income Latino community that sees little direct economic benefits. After the January crash, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a plan to look at steps needed to close the airport.
Democratic Rep. Tony Cárdenas, who represents the area, has called on the Federal Aviation Administration to place a 30-day moratorium on all but emergency activities and conduct an audit of the country-run airport's operations and safety.
"The surrounding community is literally afraid for their lives," Cárdenas said. "There are way too many crashes coming in and out of Whiteman Airport."
Over the last decade, there have been 13 crashes at or near Whiteman, one of five general aviation airports owned by Los Angeles County, according to data from the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates aviation accidents when there is substantial damage to the aircraft, injuries or fatalities. The crashes all involved light aircraft, usually more than three decades old, flown by private pilots. In several cases, the planes wrecked near busy streets or homes.
Safety concerns date back decades. A 1990 county-sponsored study of the airport found "a relatively high number of incidents," which it blamed on the predominance of recreational and flight-training operations. That report cited more than one accident a year annually at Whiteman between 1979 and 1990.
Activists who want the airport shut down are encouraged by communities like Santa Monica, where the airport runway was shortened and cleared for closure by 2028, and San Jose, where the county banned the sale of leaded gasoline at the airport.