MERCED — 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, instead smashing into a berm along the highway near Childs Avenue, 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 of injuries sustained in the crash, according to his daughter, Dana Ewing.
There were no passengers in the plane and no bystanders were hurt in the crash, said CHP spokesman John Patterson.
"He landed in a spot where there was no one around," Patterson said.
Dana Ewing said her father, a pilot for 68 years, was test-flying the plane Tuesday. He had 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 agency 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 about 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 99 and into the embankment.
"It was sputtering and going like it was losing power," Shearer said.
Eric Petty was passing by on his bike when the plane came down. He watched it sputter, then saw it crash.
"It dropped like a rock," Petty said.
Fire crews arrived on the scene soon after the crash and removed Ewing from the plane, witnesses said.
Merced Fire Department crews then showered the wreck with fire retardant.
The offramp and the southbound lanes of Highway 99 were shut down.
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 when it ran out of fuel.
Ewing and his wife were injured when the plane flipped over.
Dwight Ewing was past president of the California Air Force Association and a member of the Quiet Birdmen, a fraternity for pilots.