A Chandler man who was described by those who knew him as a “real patriot” and “into his American citizenship” died Thursday after his World War II plane “Su Su” cartwheeled into a building at Stellar Airpark as his wife looked on.
Nazzi Hirani of Hirani Oil Arizona, who is known among World War II vintage airplane circles, and who has offices located in the airpark, died when his P-51D Mustang crashed about 1:20 p.m. into the door of a hangar at the airpark, located about a quarter of a mile south of Chandler Boulevard near McClintock Drive, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said.
The circumstances of the crash weren’t known, but FAA investigators were en route to the airport Thursday afternoon.
Bob Gottlieb, who owns some hangars on the property, told the Tribune that the deceased pilot was a close friend.
He said the wreck happened on the east side of the runway.
Gottlieb said he saw the plane cartwheel into the building and explode.
“He was killed instantly,” he said. “Unfortunately, his wife had to watch the whole thing,” Gottlieb said.
Paul Nies, a Chandler fire spokesman, said that it was hard to tell “what was part of the plane and what was part of the door,” as it was embedded into the door of the hangar, a clump of mangled metal.
The impact of the crash compromised the structural integrity of the building, Nies said.
“It looks like if you shot a Volkswagen through a door at a 100 miles an hour,” Nies said. “We have a station about a quarter mile away, so we were able to get here right away and extinguish the fire. The fire was so intense, there were no external markings left on the plane.”
The P-51D Mustangs were escort planes for the B-17 bombers during World War II in the European Campaign. Hirani purchased the plane from NASA astronaut Frank Borman II, who commanded the Apollo VIII missions that orbited the moon, according to a man who knew Hirani who didn’t want to be identified.
Larry Dustman, who also owns and flies a World War II Steerman biplane and has a hangar next to where Hirani crashed, said he heard the crash.
“I went over there as soon as it happened, and tried to put the fire out, but it was too late,” Dustman said. “He was a real patriot and proud to be an American citizen. He was big into supporting the troops and supportive of the F-16 Squadron at Luke Air Force Base. He was just a great guy.”
Marisela Garcia, an employee at Coliman Pacific Corp. at the airpark, said she heard the craft going overhead sounding as if it was going to crash into her building.
The next thing she saw was the huge column of black smoke.
Hirani, who friends say was in his 50s, has a collection of World War II airplanes. He and his wife lived in the neighborhood airpark, and a friend of Hirani’s said he recently flew the plane in an air show.
Hirani Oil Arizona is a real estate and property management company, according to its Web site.
Gottlieb said the pilot was very capable and described the accident as the result of a chain of events that were out of the man’s control.
“There was no distress call,” he said. “It was a normal landing. The airplane just got away on landing. So he wasn’t in distress. There was no emergency, there was no mechanical failure. This is just one of those freak accidents. It’s conducive to the type of aircraft that he was flying.”
Joe Martin, manager of Stellar Airpark, could not be reached for comment.
A man in an office across the street from Hirani’s did not want to be identified, but said he also is familiar with World War II airplanes. He said that era of planes can be “tricky” to fly and maneuver.
“His airplane was probably better than a new one,” he said. “They have a tremendous amount of power and they always want to pull on you.”