Merced businessman dies in Highway 99 plane crash

Dwight Ewing, seen here in this 2007 file photo, was killed Tuesday in a plane crash.
Dwight Ewing, seen here in this 2007 file photo, was killed Tuesday in a plane crash. Merced Sun-Star file photo by Marci Stenberg

Crumpled wreckage was all that was left of a small plane piloted by Merced resident Dwight Ewing after it crashed into an embankment along Highway 99 on Tuesday morning.

The small twin-engine airplane just missed hitting traffic on Highway 99 and instead smashed into a berm along the freeway near Childs Avenue, killing the pilot, according to witnesses and the California Highway Patrol.

Ewing, 88, a prominent Merced resident, was taken to Mercy Medical Center, where he died from complications after the crash, according to his daughter Dana Ewing.

There were no passengers in the plane and no bystanders were hurt in the crash, according to CHP spokesman John Patterson. "He landed in a spot where there was no one around," he said.

The southbound Highway 99 offramp at Childs Avenue remains closed Wednesday morning as the Federal Aviation Administration investigates the crash, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Dana Ewing said her father, a pilot for 68 years, was test-flying the plane Tuesday and had just been recertified to fly it Monday.

The Federal Aviation Administration is conducting an investigation, said FAA spokesman Ian Gregor. The preliminary information released by the FAA is that the plane struck a pole and then an offramp embankment at Childs Avenue and Highway 99 about three miles east of Merced Regional Airport, where it took off from around 11:30 a.m.

Donald Shearer said he was outside of his son's garage on the north side of Highway 99 when he saw the plane come in low over the nearby McDonald's, clip some treetops before flying over Highway 99 and into the embankment. "It was sputtering and going like it was losing power," said Shearer.

Eric Petty was passing by on his bike when the plane came down. After watching it sputter, he saw it crash. "It dropped like a rock," he said.

Fire crews arrived on the scene soon after the crash and removed Ewing from the plane, said witnesses. By noon, the small white plane was a crumpled mass on the edge of the Childs Avenue offramp on the south side of Highway 99.

After Ewing was put into an ambulance, Merced Fire Department crews showered the wreck with fire retardant.

The freeway offramp was closed after the crash and the southbound lanes of Highway 99 were shut down as well.

This was not the first time Ewing had crashed a plane.

On June 28, 1959, he was flying a private plane with his pregnant wife and another passenger when it crashed after running out of fuel. Ewing and his wife both received injuries when the plane flipped over. Ewing was thrown 500 feet from the plane.

Dana Ewing said this is how her father would have liked to die.

Dwight Ewing was past president of the California Air Force Association and a member of the Quiet Birdmen -- a fraternity for pilots.

Reporter Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at (209) 385-2484 or jlamb@mercedsun-star.com.

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