SANTA MONICA—A small plane in route toward Santa Monica from San Diego crashed on Sunday, May 15 into the rugged cliff-side of Brown Mountain in the Angeles National Forest, leaving one person dead.

The pilot, Thomas Bruff, 57,  a San Diego doctor was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office. Bruff rented the San Diego-based aircraft from owner Tom Reid, who leases it to experienced pilots.

The single-engine aircraft, a white Cessna 182, described as having blue stripes, was reported missing at approximately 8 a.m. on Sunday – radar data from showed that the plane departed at 7:37 a.m. Sunday, from Montgomery Field in San Diego.

According to reports, the aircraft lost contact with ground controllers when it was roughly 17 miles east of Van Nuys Airport.

The Los Angeles County Fire Department alongside the Altadena and Montrose search-and-rescue teams responded. It’s not yet clear what caused the crash, but authorities reported that the pilot was headed directly into the path of the mountainside before losing contact with ground controllers.

The mountain was covered with thick fog at the time of the crash, giving the pilot limited visibility ranging from 20 to 30 feet., according to authorities. The aircraft was seen near Angeles Crest Highway Mt. and Wilson Red Box Road, LA, shortly after 9 a.m.

Foggy skies hindered the air search and search-and-rescue teams from Antelope Valley, Santa Clarita, Sierra Madre and San Dimas were called in for backup and asked to assist canvas the forest in a massive ground search to find the wreckage. Six search and rescue teams utilized “direction finding equipment” during the ground search where heavy brush continuously reigned against the visibility of the approximate 50 volunteers and reserve deputies hiking through the treacherous terrain.

Air Rescue 5 lowered two ESD paramedics from the helicopter who used rope systems to secure themselves on the side of the mountain to search the area and determined a male adult and sole occupant was deceased in the wreckage, noted the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department on their Facebook page.

The plane was located around 5:20 p.m. along a steep cliff on the south side of Brown Mountain. The National Transportation Safety Board and the FAA will be investigating the crash.

Anyone with information about this incident is encouraged to contact the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Aero Bureau at (562) 421-2701. If you prefer to provide information anonymously, you may call “Crime Stoppers” by dialing (800) 222-TIPS (8477), or texting the letters TIPLA plus your tip to CRIMES (274637), or by using the website

By Sabrina Bush and Donald Roberts