By Mark Ellis —
When a twin-engine Cessna 310 fell out of the sky near John Wayne Airport, it happened to clip the front end of an off-duty fire captain’s truck. The split-second timing of the crash on the 405 Freeway and collision with his truck allowed God’s providential hand to move powerfully to save lives.
“It’s a course of miracles, that whole event,” says Captain John Meffert. “God’s hands were over all of us on the freeway that day.”
Earlier that morning, Meffert took the Catalina Express from Avalon to Long Beach, where it docked. He ran into a former work partner on the boat, so it delayed his trip home to Rancho Santa Margarita by about 10 minutes.
“Traffic was horrible that day from the 22 Freeway to the 55,” he recounts. “That day was heavier than normal.” For many travelers, Friday June 30th was the start of an extended holiday weekend leading to the Fourth of July.
But inexplicably, the traffic cleared. “All of a sudden it opened up and I was one of the lead vehicles at the 55 transition before John Wayne Airport.”
As he approached the airport, he was on his cellphone talking with his father. Then out of the corner of his eye he saw a plane dropping unusually fast.
“Wow, that plane seems really low!” he exclaimed to his dad. “I thought the plane was over me but then his wing came right across the front of my car.”
Frank Pisano was at the controls of the plane with his wife Janan sitting by his side. He was desperately trying to make it over the freeway to reach the runway after he lost one engine on takeoff.
“I realized I was hit by the plane,” Meffert recounts. The collision spun the Cessna across the freeway so the wing hit a concrete barrier, instead of a head-on collision with the fuselage, which would have killed the Pisanos instantly.
Captain Meffert realizes if the timing had been different, it could have been much worse. “I was saved from having the top of my roof chopped in half and taking me out,” he notes. “Having the wing scrape across the front of my truck was nothing compared to the propeller hitting me or something worse happening.”
If the traffic had been heavier, there may have been a greater loss of life. “It was another miracle that we went from heavy traffic to an opening. There could have been another 15-30 cars involved,” he observes.
“And then he chose to hit me of all people!” Meffert has 21 years experience with the fire department on Catalina Island. In 1990-91 he served in the Persian Gulf War during Desert Shield and Desert Storm. During his service, he received training in intensive care and emergency medicine.
After his brush with death, Meffert pulled his truck over to the side, got out, and began jogging toward the plane. He was wearing a tee shirt, shorts and flip-flops.
“What I saw with the horrific explosion and flames and the crash I didn’t think anybody would be alive. But all of a sudden I saw Janan’s head pop up once. I picked up my speed and ran to the back of the plane and made my way to her.”
Both wings were on fire because the fuel is stored in the wings.
Janan had been able to get out of the plane, but Frank was caught under the dashboard.
“Get the hell out of here,” Frank yelled at his wife.
“I’m not going without you,” she replied. It’s a wonder Janan could move with a broken back and gaping head wound.
When Meffert saw Janan vainly attempting to pull her husband out, he thought, If she can be in there I can be in there.
He lunged forward despite the danger and had to persuade Janan to move out of the way. “I always get choked up thinking about her loyalty not wanting to leave his side,” he says. “She took her oath of marriage to the extreme. She wasn’t about to leave his side. It wasn’t until I got there and assured her I was going to get him out that she moved out of the way.”
Meffert stuck his arms around Frank in a bear hug and said, “I got you,” and pulled him out.
“They could have had full body burns and inhalation burns and respiratory issues (but did not),” Meffert observes. “They fared really well considering the accident.”
Captain Meffert grew up attending the Lutheran Church in Visalia, California. “I don’t practice but I believe that we have a higher power and I believe in God,” he says.
He saw God’s hand of protection that day. “I’m a firm believer in miracles,” he says, “and the 30th of June was one of the biggest miracles I have seen and been apart of.”
“Prayer is so powerful!” he exclaims. The Pisanos “had God’s ear, his eyes, and his caring hands” over them “and all of us on the ground.”
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