Ian Gregor of the Federal Aviation Administration said the pilot of the single-engine Cessna 210 declared an emergency for unknown reasons around 6:10 p.m., shortly after taking off from Santa Monica Airport.
The plane crashed in the 2100 block of South Glendon Avenue a short time later, about three miles northeast of the airport. The aircraft broke into several pieces, with the bulk of the wreckage bursting into flames at the base of a palm tree that burned to its trunk.
One person was found dead in the wreckage, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department. There were no other apparent injuries, and there was no damage to any homes in the neighborhood, according to fire officials.
Gregor said the plane was registered to a Santa Monica resident. It was unclear where the pilot was flying. A man who said he was driving in the area shortly before the crash said he noticed a small plane flying abnormally low.
"I didn't hear any abnormal engine noise," the man said, adding that he saw no signs of distress in the way the plane was flying, other than the fact is was "extremely" low. "It was a red flag immediately," he said. Another witness told the station the plane appeared to clip the top of a dead palm tree and crash to the ground.
The crash will be investigated by the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board.
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