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Plane crash victim said to be aviation website chief [UPDATED]

January 29, 2009 |  9:14 am

Coroner's officials were working this morning to confirm the identities of two men killed in a plane crash Wednesday at the Santa Monica Airport, but friends said one of the men was Paulo Emanuele, general manager of the website www.airliners.net.

The red, two-seat Marchetti SF-260 airplane that crashed on the west end of the runway is registered to Malibu-based Wingspan Inc., but Assistant Chief Ed Winter of the Los Angeles County coroner's office said officials believe neither of the men was the registered owner.

An announcement went up on the aviation-interest website about 8:45 p.m. Wednesday night, telling visitors that Emanuele's "plane took off out of Santa Monica Airport at 5:00 PM and lost power. Paulo attempted to return to the airport, but the plane crashed on the runway."

The website referred to Paulo as "an amazing Pilot, an amazing photographer, an amazing friend, and an amazing father. He will be deeply missed." The website listed the year of his birth as 1962. On the homepage, the website posted photos of Emanuele with friends and in the cockpit.

It posted a link to his profile, in which he called himself "deeplight" and listed his hobbies as "Yak's, Marchetti's, Hughes 500's, Adventure a la Airstreams." The last photo he posted from the site was from a red Marchetti plane -- the same type that authorities said crashed Wednesday.

By 7 a.m. today, people had posted more than 200 sympathy notes from all over the world. One poster named "DingDong" wrote: "Sleep well, Paulo -- you served so many in the finest tradition. Greatest of respect for your numerous accomplishments, and sincerest condolences to family and friends of those left behind. You have indeed slipped the surly bonds of earth, and must be dancing the skies atop your laughter-silvered wings."

Other aviation forums, including x-plane.org, also posted the news. A friend named "Viper" said Emanuele was survived by two daughters and a wife. "If you wish to do something in his honor, please donate an old pair of glasses to your favorite charity, so that 'one who cannot see clearly, may have a better opportunity to see what a wonderful world we truly have,'" Viper wrote.

The two men were the only people in the aircraft, Winter said. He added that the bodies were "extremely charred," making positive identification difficult. Coroner's officials were still trying to reach family members.

Witnesses said they saw the plane fall nose-down in a fiery crash. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.

Updated at 11:20 a.m.: Bob Trimborn, director of the Santa Monica Airport, said investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board and the county coroner's office were at the airport through the night.

"It was a tragic event that occurred in flight," he said.

Trimborn said he couldn't speculate on the cause of the crash, but said that fatal crashes were unusual at the airport, which has about 130,000 takeoffs and landings a year.

"I've been here since 1996, and the only one time before did we have a fatal accident at the airport," he said. That accident occurred about 10 years ago when a pilot did not take the control lock off the aircraft when he took off and the instruments were locked, Trimborn said. Two people died in that accident, he said.

The airport closed immediately after the 5 p.m. crash and was reopened at 7 a.m. today, Trimborn said.

-- Jia-Rui Chong