NASA researcher dies under suspicious circumstance

An Arizona State University researcher has been identified as the pilot who died when a small plane went down Friday on a Los Angeles street, officials said. The deceased pilot was identified as Alberto Behar, 47, of Scottsdale, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner. Behar was an employee at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and also a researcher at ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, according to his profile on LinkedIn, a networking website. Behar was involved in the NASA Curiosity rover that uses scientific instruments to gather information on Mars. His research involved a Russian-made instrument that detected hydrogen beneath the rover, according to an ASU press release in 2013.

He also received a patent in 2011 for developing a robot that could operate in zero gravity, according to his LinkedIn profile.According to a statement released by his family, Behar had degrees from the University of Southern California and Rensselear Polytechnic Institute in New York. He was a certified helicopter flight instructor, commercial airplane pilot and was certified as a scientific and rescue diver.


“Alberto was an incredible person who performed amazing work at both JPL and ASU,” said his longtime friend Lance Strumpf, chief pilot at Briles Wing & Helicopter of Van Nuys, Calif. “He had a passion for aviation, a truly inventive mind and will be missed.”

He is survived by his wife, Mary, and their three children, Indra, Isis and Athena. Behar was pronounced dead at the scene Friday, just outside the Van Nuys Airport, said Sgt. Barry Montgomery, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department. The single-engine Lancair is registered under Behar’s Scottsdale address, according to the plane’s registry with the Federal Aviation Administration. Montgomery said the Lancair did not hit any vehicles or structures as it went down on the busy street shortly after 1 p.m., and that no other injuries were reported.

“It could have been a lot worse. The citizens in the area were very fortunate that this incident wasn’t more tragic,” he said. Pat Gallegos, a witness to the crash, described the scene as “chaotic,” saying the plane barely missed a vehicle with a woman inside.

People nearby attempted to help Behar, but it was too late, he said.

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