The Los Angeles County Fire Department alerted the Sheriff's Air Unit at 3:35 p.m. after receiving reports of an airplane in distress near the Angeles Crest Highway, said Lt. Robert Lopez, from the Crescenta Valley Sheriff's Station.
"We got reports ? that sounded like an airplane in distress near the Highway 2 area," he said. "It sounded like it was in trouble."
The wreckage of the plane was spotted at 3:45 p.m., Lopez said, adding that members of the Montrose Search and Rescue Team hiked down into a gorge to reach the plane but found the pilot dead at the scene.
The skies were cloudy at the time the aircraft went down, but weather was not a factor, Lopez said.
Ray and Sharon Anderson, from Oxnard, were driving along the highway with their two grandchildren in the car when they noticed helicopters circling in the sky.
"We were coming down from Palmdale, going down the road when we saw the helicopters," said Ray Anderson. "We thought a hiker must be lost in the mountains."
They quickly realized that something more serious had happened when they saw fire trucks, police cars and search and rescue members arriving at the scene, he added.
"I feel terrible," said his wife, Sharon Anderson. "My heart just goes out there to whoever it is [that died] and their family. It's a dangerous thing, those small planes. It doesn't take too much to go wrong."