A Toyota Motor Corp. executive engineer who played a leading role in developing the Prius and was among the country's top experts on gas-electric hybrid vehicles died in a plane crash in the Pacific Ocean, officials said.
David Hermance, 59, was piloting an experimental plane when it went down around Saturday afternoon about 50 meters off of Los Angeles' San Pedro area.
A search team found the wreckage of the two-passenger Interavia E-3 aircraft submerged in 60 feet (18 meters) of water Sunday morning, county Fire Capt. Mark Savage said.
Hermance was executive engineer for Advanced Technology Vehicles at Toyota's technical center in the Los Angeles area, company spokesman Mike Michels said. There, he was key in developing the gas-electric Prius and bringing it to the American market, where it gained popularity for its fuel efficiency.
"He was widely recognized as the most authoritative individual on hybrid power vehicles in the U.S.," Michels said.
Hermance was believed to be the only person aboard the plane, reports AP.
The single-engine plane is classified as experimental by the Federal Aviation Administration. It is based on a Russian design and often is used in aerobatics.
The plane may have taken off from Long Beach but it was unclear where it was heading, Savage said.
The plane was built in 1993 and registered to Yakety Yak, Inc., in Wilmington, Delaware, the FAA said.
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