Daily Archives: August 31, 2018

31 August 1986

Piper PA-28-181 Archer II, D-EHLY, serial number 28-7790224. This is the same type as the airplane involved in the 1986 Cerritos Mid-Air Collision. (Huhu Uet/Wikimedia Commons)

31 August 1986: At approximately 11:41 a.m., Pacific Daylight Time, William Kenneth Kramer departed Zamperini Field (TOA) at Torrance, California, flying a Piper PA-28-181 Archer II, FAA registration N4891F.

The PA-28-181 was a single-engine, four-place, light airplane with fixed tricycle landing gear, built by the Piper Aircraft Corporation in 1976. It carried the manufacturer’s serial number 77-90070. The airplane was owned by William Kramer.

In addition to the pilot, there were two passengers on board, Kathleen O’Connell Kramer, Kramer’s wife of 30 years, and their 26-year-old daughter, Caroline. The family’s destination was Big Bear City Airport (L35), high in the San Bernardino Mountains of Southern California.

Photocopied image of a Los Angeles Terminal Control Area (TCA) chart, circa 1986, from NTSB report.
Image of a recent Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) airspace chart. (Los Angeles ARTCC)
Satellite image of the area illustrated on the TCA charts, above. (Imagery © 2018 Landsat)

Three major airports in the immediate area reported that the sky was clear and visibility was 14–15 miles (22.5–24.1 kilometers).

As Kramer climbed toward his cruise altitude, he deviated from the Visual Flight Rules (VFR) Flight Plan which he had filed with the nearby Hawthorne Flight Service Station prior to takeoff. Without authorization from Air Traffic Control, the pilot entered a segment of the Los Angeles Terminal Control Area.

Aeromexico’s Douglas DC-9-32 XA-JED, Hermosillo. (Photograph © Bob Garrard, used with permission.)

Aeroméxico Flight 498 was a regularly-scheduled flight from Mexico City to Los Angeles, with intermediate stops at Guadalajara, Loreto and Tijuana. The airliner was a 1969 McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32, serial number 47356, owned by Aeronaves de México S.A., and registered in Estados Unidos Mexicanos (Mexico) as XA-JED. Aeroméxico had named it Hermosillo.

The pilot in command of the airliner was Captain Antonio Valdez-Prom, with First Officer Jose Hector Valencia. There were four flight attendants and 58 passengers. The DC-9 was descending from 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) for an instrument approach and landing at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

Flight 498 was descending in northwesterly direction, while the Archer was climbing, eastbound.

At 11:52:09 a.m., as the DC-9 descended through an altitude of approximately 6,660 feet (2,030 meters),¹ the Piper collided with the left side of the DC-9’s vertical fin, just below the horizontal stabilizer. The angle of collision was approximately 90°. The airliner’s entire horizontal stabilizer and rudder were torn from the aircraft.

All three persons aboard the light airplane were decapitated.² The Archer was heavily damaged, and with no one left alive to fly it, crashed on the playground of Cerritos Elementary School.

Crash site of Piper Archer II N4891F, photographed 1 September 1986. (Mike Sergieff/Herald-Examiner Photo Collection, Los Angeles Public Library)
Piper Archer PA-28-121 N4891F wreckage, 31 August 1981. (Thomas Kelsey, Los Angeles Times)
Piper Archer PA-28-181 N4891F wreckage at Cerritos Elementary School, 31 August 1986. (Thomas Kelsey, Los Angeles Times)

The DC-9’s cockpit voice recorder picked up Captain Valdez-Prom’s exclamation, “Oh [deleted], this can’t be!”

The Aeroméxico pilots had no way to control their damaged DC-9. It rolled inverted and crashed into a residential neighborhood in Cerritos, California.

Aeroméxico Flight 498 inverted after mid-air collision over Cerritos, California, 31 August 1986. (NTSB)

All 64 persons on the DC-9, and another 15 on the ground, were killed. Eight persons on the ground were injured. Five homes were destroyed and another seven were damaged.

Scene of the crash of the Aeromexico Flight 498, 31 August 1968. (Joe Kennedy, Los Angeles Times)
Firefighters at scene of Aeroméxico Flight 498 crash, 31 August 1986. (Paul Chinn/Herald-Examiner Photo Collection, Los Angeles Public Library)

William Kenneth Kramer held a Federal Aviation Administration Airman’s Certificate with Private Pilot privileges and an Airplane–Single Engine Land rating. His medical certificate required that he wear corrective lenses while flying. Kramer had been licensed by the FAA for six years, and at the time of the accident, he had flown a total of 231 hours.

Kramer had moved to the Los Angeles area from Spokane, Washington, less than a year earlier. He had made just seven flights, totaling 5.5 hours, in one of the most complex and congested Terminal Control Areas in the United States.

Captain Antonio Valdez-Prom had been employed by Aeroméxico for fourteen years. He held Airline Transport Pilot certificates in both Mexico and the United States, and was type-rated in the DC-9. He had flown a total of 10,641 hours, with 4,632 hours in the McDonnell Douglas DC-9.

First Officer Jose Hector Valencia had been employed by Aeroméxico for just over two years. He was a licensed Commercial Pilot in both Mexico and the United States. He had flown a total of 1,463 hours, with 1,245 hours in the DC-9. Like Kramer, Valencia was required to wear corrective lenses.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) placed the blame for the accident on the air traffic control system:

3.2               Probable cause

                     The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the accident was the limitations of the air traffic control system to provide collision protection, through both air traffic control procedures and automated redundancy. Factors contributing to the accident were (1) the inadvertent and unauthorized entry of the PA-28 into the Los Angeles Terminal Control Area and (2) the limitations of the “see and avoid” concept to insure traffic separation under the conditions of the conflict.

NTSB/AAR-87/07 Aircraft Accident Report—Midair Collision of Aeronaves de México, S.A., McDonnell Douglas DC-8-32, XA-JED and Piper PA-28-181, N4891F, Cerritos, California   August 31, 1986 Chapter 3 at Page 52

The devastated neighborhood in Cerritos where Aeroméxico Flight 498 crashed, 31 August 1986. (Paul Chinn/Herald-Examiner Photo Collection, Los Angeles Public Library)

♦♦♦ OPINION ♦♦♦

It is the opinion of This Day in Aviation that the Probable Cause of this accident as determined by the National Transportation Safety Board was a political statement. As far back as 1956, with the mid-air collision of a United Air Lines Douglas DC-7 and a Trans World Airlines Lockheed Super Constellation over the Grand Canyon of Arizona, the Civil Aeronautics Board and its successor, the NTSB, had repeatedly placed emphasis on the role of air traffic control (or, the lack thereof) in a number of mid-air collisions, and had been recommending numerous improvements.

TDiA believes that these recommendations were valid.

However, coming to a political conclusion hides the actual cause of the accident. When investigators look for a cause, they evaluate each individual factor. That single factor, which, if it had not occurred, results in no accident taking place—all other factors being the same—is the cause.

In this case, the pilot of the light airplane had filed a Visual Flight Rules flight plan that would have taken him initially to the southwest from Torrance Airport toward Long Beach Airport, and around the controlled airspace of Los Angeles International Airport. If he had followed his planned route no collision would have occurred. However, he flew directly east and as he climbed, he entered the Los Angeles TCA without ATC clearance. This was a significant violation of FAA regulations.

If the crew of Aeroméxico Flight 498 had performed in exactly the same way, flew the same path and descent, but the Piper Archer had remained clear of the TCA as required, there would have been no collision.

If air traffic controllers involved with the airliner and the private airplane had performed in exactly the same way as they had, but the Archer had not violated the TCA, there would have been no collision.

The inescapable conclusion is that William Kramer, by flying into the Los Angeles Terminal Control Area, caused the mid-air collision between his airplane and the Aeroméxico DC-9.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

The National Transportation Safety Board reassembled the wreckage of the Piper Archer at Long Beach Airport to compare to damage of the DC-9’s horizontal stabilizer. The relative position of the aircraft in this 3 September 1986 photograph is not representative of the actual collision. (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac via Kathryn’s Report)

¹ The Piper Archer’s altimeter was recovered and examined. Although the three pointers were missing, traces of paint from the pointers, called “slap marks,” were found on the dial face at positions corresponding to an altitude of 6,560 feet (1,999 meters).

² On 1 September 1986, The New York Times reported, “Bill Gold, a spokesman for the coroner’s office, said an autopsy showed that the pilot suffered the heart attack ‘within minutes before the fatal injuries.’ Mr. Gold said that the cause of death was ‘multiple traumatic injuries received in the crash.’ He said in an interview tonight that it had not been determined whether the heart attack led to the collision. ‘We can’t say whether it caused the collision,’ he said, ‘How severe it was we can’t say because he lived long enough to get the fatal injuries.’ “

In its 2 September 1986 edition, the Los Angeles Times reported, “An autopsy late Monday on the body of the man believed to be the pilot of the archer showed that he had suffered a heart attack just before the collision, according to the Los Angeles County coroner’s office.”

In its accident report, the NTSB quotes from the autopsy report, ” ‘. . . complete proximal occlusion of the right coronary artery.’ ” The NTSB further stated, “The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) also reviewed the autopsy protocol and the heart of the pilot of the Piper. With regard to their examination of the pilot’s heart, the AFIP pathologists found severe coronary atheriosclerosis but ‘no necrosis or other evidence of acute myocardial infarction identified.’ ”

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

31 August 1956

City of Renton, the first Boeing KC-135A Stratotanker, 55-3118, takes off for the first time. (Seattle Post Intelligencer)
City of Renton, the first Boeing KC-135A Stratotanker, 55-3118, takes off for the first time. (U.S. Air Force/Seattle Post Intelligencer)

31 August 1956: The first production Boeing KC-135A Stratotanker, 55-3118, named City of Renton, made its first flight with company test pilots Alvin Melvin (“Tex”) Johnston and Richards Llewellyn (“Dix”) Loesch, Jr., on the flight deck.

Built as an aerial refueling tanker to support the U.S. Air Force fleet of B-52 strategic bombers, an initial order for 29 tankers was soon followed by three additional orders, bringing the total to 275 airplanes by the end of Fiscal Year 1958.¹ Eventually 732 KC-135As were built by Boeing, and an additional 81 of other versions.

KC-135 City of Renton. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Boeing KC-135A Stratotanker 55-3118, City of Renton, just prior to touchdown. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

With the company internal designation of Model 717, the KC-135 was developed from the Model 367-80 proof-of-concept prototype, the “Dash Eighty.” The Stratotanker is very similar in appearance to the Model 707 and 720 airliners but is structurally a different aircraft. It is also shorter than the 707 and has a smaller diameter fuselage.

Boeing Aircraft Co. President Bill Allen talks to test pilots Tex Johnston and Dix Loesch after first flight of the Model-367-80 prototype. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Boeing Aircraft Co. President Bill Allen talks to test pilots Tex Johnston and Dix Loesch after first flight of the Model 367-80, prototype of the KC-135A Stratotanker. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

The Stratotanker was originally operated by a flight crew of four: pilot, co-pilot, navigator, and refueling boom operator. Upgrades over the decades have simplified operation and the crew has been reduced to two pilots and the boom operator. The tanker’s maximum transfer fuel load is 200,000 pounds (90,719 kilograms). The KC-135 can carry 83,000 pounds (37,648 kilograms) of cargo, and up to 37 passengers.It can also be configured to carry cargo or up to 32 passengers.

The KC-135A is 136 feet, 3 inches (41.529 meters) long, with a wingspan of 130 feet, 10 inches (39.878 meters) and overall height of 41 feet, 8 inches (12.700 meters). The Stratotanker’s maximum takeoff weight is 322,500 pounds (146,284 kilograms).

The KC-135A was powered by four Pratt & Whitney J57-P-59W turbojet engines. The J57 was a two-spool, axial-flow engine with a 16-stage compressor section (9 low- and 7-high-pressure stages) and a 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). These engines were rated at 13,750 pounds of thrust (61.16 kilonewtons), each. The J57-P-59W was 183.5 inches (4.661 meters) long, 38.9 inches (0.988 meters) long and weighed 4,320 pounds (1,920 kilograms).

The Stratotanker fleet has been re-engined with more efficient CFM International CFM56 turbofan engines which produce 21,634 pounds of thrust (96.23 kilonewtons), each. The upgraded aircraft are designated KC-135R.

Boeing KC-135A Stratotanker 55-3118, City of Renton, escorted by the “Dash 80.” (Flight Global)

The tanker has a cruise speed of 530 miles per hour (853 kilometers per hour) at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). The service ceiling was 50,000 feet (15,240 meters). Its range is 1,500 miles (2,414 kilometers) when carrying 150,000 pounds (68,039 kilograms) of transfer fuel, and the maximum ferry range is 11,015 miles (17,727 kilometers).

Of the 803 KC-135 aircraft built, 396 remain in service with the U.S. Air Force (as of 14 May 2018). It is estimated that the fleet is 33% through their design lifetime limits.

The first production airplane, 55-3118, was used for flight testing. It was later modified into an EC-135K Head Dancer airborne command post. Today, the first Stratotanker is on display at the front gate of McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas.

Boeing KC-135A-BN Stratotanker 55-3118, City of Renton, refuels B-52C-50-BO Stratofortress 54-2676. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ KC-135A-BN: 57-1418–57-1514; 57-2589–57-2609; 58-0001–58-0130; total: 275

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather