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NASA Scientist Killed In Plane Crash On Los Angeles Sidewalk

Alberto Behar spent more than two decades at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, where he worked on robotic systems for exploring Mars and extreme environments on Earth.

Originally posted on
Updated on

A NASA scientist died Friday when a small plane he was piloting crashed near an airport just north of Los Angeles.

The aircraft crashed at around 1:15 p.m. near Hayvenhurst Avenue and Vanowen Street, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.

The pilot, Alberto Behar, 47, worked on instruments for the rover Curiosity, which landed on Mars in 2012, and the Mars Odyssey orbiter that launched in 2001, Reuters reported.

He was also a research professor at Arizona State University, where he directed the Extreme Environments Robotics and Instrumentation Laboratory.

Behar helped develop robotic systems for measuring ice sheets, according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, California.

"From his submarines that peeked under Antarctica to his boats that raced Greenland's rivers, Alberto's work enabled measurements of things we'd never known," NASA headquarters scientist Thomas Wagner said in a statement, according to Reuters. "His creativity knew few bounds."

#BREAKING: #LAFD: Small plane down at Vanowen St x Havenhurst Ave in #VanNuys. http://t.co/0KV0iVb6mF

CBS Los Angeles@CBSLAFollow

#BREAKING: #LAFD: Small plane down at Vanowen St x Havenhurst Ave in #VanNuys. http://t.co/0KV0iVb6mF

1:29 PM - 09 Jan 15ReplyRetweetFavorite

Aircraft Down; #VanNuys; Small plane down at Vanowen St x Havenhurst Av. 1 person possibly inside. Investigating. Ch8,17 @ 1:14PM-Erik Scott

LAFD@LAFDFollow

Aircraft Down; #VanNuys; Small plane down at Vanowen St x Havenhurst Av. 1 person possibly inside. Investigating. Ch8,17 @ 1:14PM-Erik Scott

1:26 PM - 09 Jan 15ReplyRetweetFavorite

UPDATE: 16100 Vanowen 1 occupant onboard, sadly determined dead on scene. The plane did not hit a vehicle or structure & did not catch fire.

LAFD@LAFDFollow

UPDATE: 16100 Vanowen 1 occupant onboard, sadly determined dead on scene. The plane did not hit a vehicle or structure & did not catch fire.

1:50 PM - 09 Jan 15ReplyRetweetFavorite

The single-prop plane did not hit any vehicles on the ground and no other injuries were reported.

#BREAKING: Small plane crashes near Van Nuys Airport. @Sky5Tim overhead as @LAFD responds. http://t.co/1ML3R8PIgJ

KTLA@KTLAFollow

#BREAKING: Small plane crashes near Van Nuys Airport. @Sky5Tim overhead as @LAFD responds. http://t.co/1ML3R8PIgJ

1:32 PM - 09 Jan 15ReplyRetweetFavorite

Footage from a nearby security camera reportedly shows the plane possibly coming apart before slamming into the ground.

The camera at LA Auto Connection showed that the plane coming straight down out of the sky, coming down in front of the business, the Los Angeles Daily News reported.

From analyzing the security video, Farzan Amiri, who provides office computing services to LA Auto Connection, told the Daily News that it appears the plane might have come apart in the air.

"It's just excruciating to see this," he said. "The moment of someone's death — it's not fun to watch."

Multiple media outlets were reporting that the word "experimental" could be seen on some of the wreckage at the scene.

#BREAKING: Plane crash in Van Nuys near Vanowen and Hayvenhurt. @LAFD on scene investigating. More info to come.

FOX 11 Los Angeles@myfoxlaFollow

#BREAKING: Plane crash in Van Nuys near Vanowen and Hayvenhurt. @LAFD on scene investigating. More info to come.

1:36 PM - 09 Jan 15ReplyRetweetFavorite

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the crash.

The weather that day was mild, with clear skies and relatively low winds.

Behar was an experienced pilot and instructor for airplanes and helicopters, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Van Nuys pilot Kashif Khursheed told the paper that Behar was "very knowledgeable, competent and thorough."

Jason Wells is a news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.

Contact Jason Wells at jason.wells@buzzfeed.com.

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