from left, Pastor John R. Steward speaks with plane crash survivors Janan and Frank Pisano at Mount of Olives Church in Mission Viejo (Adam Gilles/Lariat)
Frank and Janan Pisano, survivors of a plane crash on the 405 freeway next to John Wayne Airport last June, sat with Pastor John R. Steward at Mount of Olives Church in Mission Viejo to tell their story during services last weekend.
On Friday, June 30 the Pisano’s took off from John Wayne Airport in their twin engine plane on a trip to Scottsdale for the weekend. The couple had been flying for 25 years together without any incidents and had flown the same hour and 20-minute flight numerous times before.
Frank Pisano took off climbing at 1200 feet per minute and at 400 feet one of the engines stalled. Pisano, using his emergency training, lowered the nose and feathered the props to reduce drag.
“I said, ‘God just please don’t let my kids be orphans. That’s all I ask,’” he said.
After using the radio to declare a mayday, Pisano thought he had a chance to make the turn back to the airport and make an emergency landing on the runway, where rescue vehicles would already be available to assist them.
Pisano knew once he made the turn and slowed down that it would be a crash landing and he told his wife, Janan, to prepare for impact.
“When I dropped the gear, we fell like a lead balloon,” Frank said. “That’s when I told her, ‘Brace yourself. We’re hitting’.”
They flew right between two light poles and hit a median in the center of the 405 freeway, losing the left strut and left fuel tank of the plane, which caused the plane to immediately burst into flames. The plane bounced up over the median, striking the pickup truck of off-duty Catalina Island Fire Capt. John Meffert with the tail of the plane, which kept it spinning to a halt, instead of going headfirst into a barrier.
Frank Pisano said that he looked out of the window of the plane to see 30 feet high flames.
“I told Janan, ‘Get out of the plane. It’s gonna blow,’” he said.
Janan Pisano was able to get out of the plane but Frank’s feet were trapped underneath the pilot’s seat. Janan went back into the burning plane to try and free her husband but was unsuccessful.
At that point, Meffert, wearing shorts and flip-flops, arrived, after pulling his truck safely to the side of the freeway, and was able to free Frank Pisano from the burning wreckage and drag him to safety before leading in the first aid efforts.
“I pulled Frank from the plane and just started getting to work,” said Meffert.
The Pisano’s and Meffert said that they felt no heat coming from inside the airplane despite the fact that, other than the cabin they were in, the rest of the plane was fully engulfed in flames. The plastic and metal from the headsets that they were wearing were completely melted, but the Pisano’s had no burn marks from the fire. The Pisano’s point to this as one of many “miracles” they experienced on that day.
Janan Pisano was laying on her back on the freeway with a large laceration to her head. Another bystander, on the advice of Meffert, attempted to stop the bleeding while repeating to her, “God is with you,” Janan said.
The next person on the scene was an off-duty nurse from Hoag Hospital. The Pisano’s believe that this was also a miracle, not just coincidence, that these three people were the first to come to their aid.
Catalina Fire Capt. John Meffert (center) gets a standing ovation from the crowd at Mount of Olives Church (Adam Gilles/Lariat)
Meffert was sitting among the crowd at Mount Olives Church as the Pisano’s told their story and he was greeted with a standing ovation when Frank Pisano pointed him out to the audience. Frank Pisano credits Meffert’s experience and quick thinking for the reason why he his able to stand today.
Meffert visited the Pisano’s in the hospital after the incident and they have all become close friends. Meffert now goes out to dinner with the Pisano family on a regular basis.
“I see them once a week now, if not every two weeks,” Meffert said.
Frank Pisano has had multiple surgeries since the crash. The Pisano’s both wear support braces and Frank still needs a cane to help him walk, but Doctors have told him that, within a year, he should have 95 percent recovery. Janan is expected to make a full recovery in the same time frame.