Malibu man identified in fatal plane crash

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Witnesses say they saw the wings of the two private planes touch mid-air Sunday, then crashed.

By Andrisa Anderson/Special to The Malibu Times

The remains of two males, one of which has been identified as a Malibu resident, and a female, were recovered from the Malibu shoreline after the private airplanes they were in collided in mid-air and landed nearly two miles apart Sunday. It was immediately determined that there were no survivors.

John Rossato, 48, of Malibu was flying a Bellanca Citabria, a two-seater single-engine plane, that witnesses say crashed mid-air with a Thorp T-18 flown by Dr. John Zasadny, 57, of Torrance. Jenifer Williamson, 37, also from Torrance, was Zasadny’s passenger. The cause of the crash in under investigation, but witnesses say they saw they tips of the wings touch each other when in mid-air.

The wreckage of the two single-engine private planes came to rest in two different areas on the coast in Malibu.

Lifeguard officials said the wreckage of the Bellanca Citabria was found in 17 feet of water near El Matador State Beach, with the remains of Rossato found nearby onshore.

The wreckage of the Thorp plane and the bodies of Zasadny and Williamson were found west of Broad Beach.

Rossato was a well-known local contractor who has family in Argentina and has lived in Malibu for 11 years. Susan Tellem, a friend of Rossato, met him a year ago as they both participated in jazz and yoga classes at Malibu Health and Fitness. He was set to do construction on her house in Malibu as well.

“He was a great guy; I would always see him smiling,” said Tellem, who said she was unaware that Rossato flew planes.

Debris from the collision was removed from El Matador State Beach by helicopter early afternoon on Monday. The plane was split in two as the engine and fuels lodge had separated on impact. Broad Beach’s wreckage had to be cleared with the help of air bags to bring it to the surface because it was submerged under water.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department used divers to videotape the wreckage underwater because once it was moved from the original area, it would no longer preserve as much key evidence for a thorough investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Before sundown on Sunday, the submerged wreck was secured and a buoy was placed nearby so divers could find it and continue work in the morning. The NTSB has been investigating the incident along with the Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles County Fire Department Lifeguard division.

Lifeuard Garth Canning has been working with investigators at the crash sites. He said he has never experienced something like this in 26 years of work.

“All small plane crashes are devastating,” Canning said. “The thing that was unusual with this one was it was two planes in mid-air. It’s very unusual for a collision to occur.”