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After plane crashes and close calls, pressure mounts to close this LA airport

Rachel Uranga, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

His mother, Margarita Lopez, 31, was out shopping when the plane hit. "I could have lost my only son and my only mom," she said. "I get choked up thinking about it."

All three haven't slept peacefully ever since.

"I am still so traumatized," said Avalos. She can still see the burned body of the pilot.

They have looked for other housing, but their rent is only $1,040, and they said they can't afford a new deposit.

After the wreck, the Los Angeles City Council voted to support any legislation that would shut down the airport and approved a process that Councilman Monica Rodriguez, who represents the area, hopes will eventually lead to its closing.

But any effort to close the airport could be stymied by agreements that Los Angeles County made with the FAA. Since 2006, Los Angeles County has received $4.8 million in airport improvement grants for Whiteman, most recently in 2021. Under the grant conditions, operators must keep the airport open for at least 20 years from the date of the most recent grant.

FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said the county has this obligation and that the FAA has not received a request for closure.

In December of 2020, the county created a community advisory committee — made up of airport officials, community members, business owners and flight enthusiasts— to come up with a plan for the airport that would address some of the community's concerns.


The advisory board is set to make recommendations later this year on the future of Whiteman, but some members say meetings are often contentious and key data, including reports on the accident in front of Avalos' home, are still unavailable.

Padilla-Campos said that the committee hasn't really been able to do true community outreach with COVID concerns and that she often feels her worries are dismissed.

Frasher, who represents the county, said it is trying to repair fractured relations. "The airport operators and vendors and pilots associations at Whiteman are all hoping to make a better connection with the community."

On a clear spring day recently, the sputtering buzz of small planes continued.

Lopez stepped out of her home. The now-melted chair that her mom had been sitting on the day of the crash still sat on the artificial lawn. The burned up mulberry tree had been removed.

"See how close they get," she told a reporter. A plane flew low over her house and landed on the runway across the street.

"Feel my heart. It's racing," she said. "You relive it every day. You live in fear."

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