Tag Archives: Mid-Air Collision

16 December 1960

The “empennage and fuselage aft of Fuselage Station 1490” of United Air Lines’ Douglas DC-8 N8013U at the intersection of Sterling Place and Seventh Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, 17 December 1960. (New York Daily News)

16 December 1960, 10:33:32 a.m., Eastern Standard Time: United Air Lines Flight 826, a Douglas DC-8 jet airliner, collided with Trans World Airlines Flight 266, a Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation, at approximately 5,200 feet (1,585 meters) over Staten Island, New York. The Lockheed crashed near the point of collision, on the former Miller Army Air Field, while the DC-8 continued to the northeast before crashing at Brooklyn.

All 128 persons on board both airliners were killed, as were 6 persons on the ground. One passenger, an 11-year-old boy on board the DC-8, did survive the crash, but he died the following day as a result of having inhaled the burning jet fuel fumes.

New York City Fire Department on the scene of the United Air Lines Flight 826 crash, 16 December 1960. The destroyed building was the Pillar of Fire Church, 123 Sterling Place, at Seventh Avenue, Brooklyn..(New York City Fire Department)

The Civil Aeronautics Board investigation of the accident was the first to use data from a Flight Data Recorder from one of the involved airplanes.

A Trans World Airlines Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation. (TWA)

TWA Flight 266 had originated at Dayton, Ohio, with an intermediate stop at Columbus, Ohio. The Super Constellation departed Port Columbus Airport at 9:00 a.m., en route to La Guardia Airport, New York. Captain David Arthur Wollam, a fifteen year veteran of TWA with 14,583 flight hours, was in command. First Officer Dean T. Bowen and Second Officer (Flight Engineer) LeRoy L. Rosenthal completed the cockpit crew. The cabin crew were Hostess Margaret Gernat and Hostess Patricia Post. The airliner carried 39 passengers.

A United Air Lines Douglas DC-8 at the Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, California. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

UAL Flight 826 was a non-stop flight from O’Hare Airport, Chicago, Illinois, to New York International Airport (“Idelwild Airport,” now John F. Kennedy International Airport), New York City. The Pilot in Command was Captain Robert H. Sawyer. He had flown for United for nineteen years, and had 19,100 flight hours, with 344 hours in the new DC-8 jet airliner. The co-pilot was First Officer Robert W. Flebing and the flight engineer was Second Officer Richard E. Pruitt. There were four flight attendants in the cabin: Stewardess Mary J. Mahoney, Stewardess Augustine L. Ferrar, Stewardess Anne M. Bouthen, and Stewardess Patricia A. Keller. The flight crew had departed from Los Angeles, California, at 3:20 a.m., arrived at Chicago at 6:56 a.m., where they held over for two hours. The airliner departed Chicago at 9:11 a.m. with 76 passengers. (These times are Eastern Standard Time.)

Both airliners were flying under Instrument Flight Rules and followed a series of airways defined by a system of Very High Frequency Omnidirectional Ranges (VORs)—radio ground stations—as well as radar service provided by Air Traffic Control Centers and Approach Control facilities along their route of flight. As it approached LaGuardia, Flight 266 was controlled by New York Center and LaGuardia Approach Control. Flight 826 was also with New York Center, but the approach to Idlewild was with Idlewild Approach Control. The radar controllers of New York Center “handed off” Flight 266 to LaGuardia Approach at 10:27 a.m. Center cleared Flight 826 to the PRESTON Intersection, and advised to expect to hold at that position. It then handed off 826 to Idlewild Approach at 10:33 a.m.

PRESTON Intersection is a position defined by the 346° radial of the Colts Neck VOR (COL) and the 050° radial of Robbinsville VOR (RBV). Aircraft use VOR receivers and a visual display instrument to locate intersections and their positions along airway routes.

However, at 10:21 a.m., the crew of United 826 informed their operations department that the DC-8’s number two VOR receiver had failed. Flight 826 did not advise ATC, however.

While navigation is still possible with only one VOR receiver, it is more complicated as the operator must continuously switch radio frequencies between two VOR stations, and realign the Pictorial Deviation Indicator (“PDI”) instrument to the changing radials of the two ground stations. The higher speed of the new jet airliner gave the flight crew less time to accomplish the continuous changes required.

LaGuardia instructed Flight 266 to make a series of small right hand turns as it set up for the final approach to the airport’s runways. This placed the Super Constellation over Staten Island.

Illustration of Flight 826 Navigation to Preston Intersection (Federal Aviation Administration)

At 10:33:26 a.m., LaGuardia Approach called Flight 266, “Roger, that appears to be jet traffic off your right now 3 o’clock at one mile, northeast bound.” This transmission was not acknowledged.

At 10:33:28 a.m., Flight 826 “checked in” with Idlewild Approach Control, reporting, “Idlewild Approach Control, United 826, approaching PRESTON at 5,000.” Approach control acknowledged the report and informed the airliner that it could expect, “little or no delay at Preston.” Approach then relayed the current weather at the airfield, which was “600 scattered, 1,500 overcast, visibility one-half mile, light rain and fog.” This transmission was not acknowledged.

The crew of United Flight 826 had made a navigational error. At the time they reported that they were “approaching PRESTON,” the DC-8 had already flown approximately 11 miles (18 kilometers) beyond the clearance limit. Without having received clearance to proceed further, Flight 826 should have entered a holding pattern to the southwest of the intersection.

Air traffic controllers at LaGuardia Approach Control saw two radar targets merge. One then continued to the northwest, while the second remained stationary, then made a slow right turn before disappearing from the radar scope.

At the point of collision, the Super Constellation was in a slight left bank. The DC-8 was flying straight and level at 301 miles per hour. It struck the L-1049A from the right rear quarter, its number 4 engine penetrating the Constellation’s passenger cabin, and severing the Constellation’s right wing between the number 3 and number 4 engines. The Lockheed’s fuselage broke into three sections and caught fire. The DC-8 was heavily damaged in the collision, the outboard section of the right wing and the number 4 engine found among the Constellation’s wreckage at Miller Field. The jetliner continued for approximately 9 miles before crashing into a residential area of Brooklyn.

Scene of the DC-8 crash, Brooklyn, New York, 16 December 1960. (New York City Fire Department)

Trans World Airlines Flight 266 was a Lockheed L-1049-54 Super Constellation, serial number 1049-4021, registered N6907C. It had been delivered to TWA eight years earlier, 16 October 1952. At the time of the collision, the airliner had flown a total of 21,555 hours (TTAF). It was 3,905 hours since the last major overhaul (SMOH).

United Air Lines Flight 826 was a Douglas DC-8-11, serial number 45920, registered N8013U. It was delivered to United 22 December 1959. The airliner had flown 2,434 hours TTAF, and 42 hours since overhaul.

The DC-8 carried a Waste King Flight Recorder, from which significant data was recovered by crash investigators.

Wreckage of TWA Flight 266 at Miller Field. (New York Daily News)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

11 December 1941

Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., Royal Canadian Air Force.

11 December 1941: Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., Royal Canadian Air Force, an American serving in England before the United States entered World War II, was killed when his Supermarine Spitfire collided with another airplane in clouds over the village of Roxholm, Lincolnshire, England. He was only 19 years old.

Magee was born in China, the son of Anglican missionaries. His father was an American, giving him American citizenship, and his mother was from England. He was educated in the missionary schools until 1931 when his mother took him to England to continue his education at the Rugby School in Wawickshire.

In 1939, Magee traveled to the United States to visit his father’s family in Pittsburgh, but because of the outbreak of World War II, he was unable to return to England. While in America, he continued his schooling at the Old Avon Farms School in Connecticut and won a scholarship to Yale University.

Group Captain Wilfred A. Curtiss presents pilot’s wings to Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., at Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, 14 April 1941. (Royal Canadian Air Force)

Instead of studying at Yale, in 1941, John Magee enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force. After completing flight training, he was sent to England. Once there he went through operational training in the Supermarine Spitfire and was assigned to No. 412 (Fighter) Squadron at RAF Digby, Scopwick Heath, and then at RAF Wellingore, Navenby, both in Lincolnshire.

Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., in the cockpit of his Supermarine Spitfire, No. 412 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force.
Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., in the cockpit of a Supermarine Spitfire, No. 412 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force.

At approximately 11:30 a.m., 11 December 1941, Pilot Officer Magee was flying his Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vb, AD291, squadron markings VZ-H. He and three other pilots from No. 412 Squadron descended through a hole in the clouds. At 1,400 feet (427 meters), Magee’s Spitfire collided with an Airspeed A.S. 10 Oxford twin-engine trainer, T1052.

A witness said that he saw the Spitfire pilot struggle to open the airplane’s canopy, then stand up in the cockpit and jump from the doomed fighter. The pilot was too close to the ground for his parachute to open.

Both airplanes crashed. Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr. was killed, as was the pilot of the other airplane, Leading Aircraftman Ernest Aubrey Griffin.

Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., No. 412 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force

Pilot Officer Magee is best known for his poem, High Flight:

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth 
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; 
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth 
of sun-split clouds,—and done a hundred things 
You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung 
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there, 
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung 
My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . . 

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue 
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace 
Where never lark nor ever eagle flew— 
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod 
The high untrespassed sanctity of space, 
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God

"On Laughter-Silvered Wings", by Keith Ferris, 1995. © by the artist. The original of this painting, depicting John Gillespie Magee’s Supermarine Spitfire, is on loan to the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, College Station, Texas.
“On Laughter-Silvered Wings”, by Keith Ferris, 1995. © by the artist. The original of this painting, depicting John Gillespie Magee’s Supermarine Spitfire, is on loan to the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, College Station, Texas.

A less well-know poem by Magee is Per Ardua, written after his first combat mission, 8 November 1941.

(To those who gave their lives to England during the Battle of Britain and
left such a shining example for us to follow, these lines are dedicated.)

They must have climbed the white mists of the morning;
They that have soared, before the world’s awake,
To herald up their foemen to them, scorning
The thin dawn’s rest their weary folk might take;

Some that left other mouths to tell the story
Of high blue battle,—quite young limbs that bled;
How they had thundered up the clouds to glory
Or fallen to an English field stained red;

Because my faltering feet would fail I find them
Laughing beside me, steadying the hand
That seeks their deadly courage—yet behind them
The cold light dies in that once brilliant land …

Do these, who help the quickened pulse run slowly,
Whose stern remembered image cools the brow—
To the far dawn of Victory know only
Night’s darkness, and Valhalla’s silence now?

Supermarine Spitfire F. Mk.Vb R6923 (QJ-S) of No. 92 Squadron, 19 May 1941. © IWM (CH 2929)

John Magee’s fighter was a Supermarine Spitfire F. Mk Vb, built at the Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory, at Warwickshire, West Midlands, and delivered to the 45th Maintenance Unit at RAF Kinloss, Scotland, on 27 September 1941. The new airplane was assigned to No. 412 Squadron on 14 October.

The Supermarine Spitfire was a single-place, single-engine low-wing monoplane of all-metal construction with retractable landing gear. The fighter had been designed by Reginald Joseph Mitchell CBE. The prototype first flew 5 March 1936.

The Spitfire F. Mk Vb was 29 feet, 11 inches (9.119 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 10 inches (11.227 meters) and overall height of 11 feet, 5 inches (3.480 meters). It had an empty weight of 4,963 pounds (2,129 kilograms) and gross weight of 6,525 pounds (2,960 kilograms).

The Spitfire Vb was powered a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,648.959-cubic-inch-displacement (27.022 liters) Rolls-Royce Merlin 45 single overhead camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine with a single-speed, single-stage supercharger. It was rated at 1,185 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m., at 11,500 feet (3,505 meters). The Merlin 45 drove a three-bladed Rotol constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 10 feet, 9 inches (3.277 meters).

The Spitfire Vb had a maximum speed of 371 miles per hour (597 kilometers per hour) at  20,100 feet (6,126 meters). It could reach 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in 6 minutes, 24 seconds, and 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) in 12 minutes, 12 seconds. The Vb’s service ceiling 37,500 feet (11,430 meters), and its range was 470 miles (756 kilometers).

The Spitfire F. Mk Vb was armed with two 20-milimeter Hispano Mk.II autocannon, with 60 rounds of ammunition per gun, and four Browning .303-caliber Mark II machine guns, with 350 rounds per gun.

Supermarine Spitfire F.Mk Vb,, similar to Magee’s fighter, photographed 19 October 1941. (Royal Canadian Air Force

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

25 September 1978, 16:02:07 UTC

PSA Flight 182, on fire after mid-air collision, 25 September 1978. (Hans Wendt, County of San Diego)

25 September 1978: At 09:02:07 a.m., local time, the worst aircraft accident in California history occurred when a Boeing 727-214 airliner, civil registration N533PS, operated by Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) as Flight 182, crashed at the intersection of Dwight Street and Nile Street in the North Park neighborhood of San Diego, 4,830 meters (3.00 miles) northwest of Lindbergh Field (SAN), today known as San Diego International Airport.

Flight 182 was a regularly scheduled commercial airline flight from Sacramento, California to San Diego, with a stopover at Los Angeles. Captain James E. McFeron, a 17-year veteran of PSA, was in command. First Officer Robert E. Fox was the pilot flying the 727 on this leg. The Flight Engineer (also called the Second Officer) was Martin J. Wahne. Also in the cockpit, occupying the two “jump seats” were two off-duty PSA captains. Four flight attendants were on duty in the passenger cabin along with 126 passengers, which included 30 PSA employees.

In clear weather and early morning sunlight, the airliner was on an visual approach to Lindbergh. The 727 passed over the Mission Bay VORTAC (MZB), a navigation aid 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) northwest of the airport, and turned left to a heading of 090° to intercept the downwind leg of the approach.

Detail of current aeronautical chart of airspace around San Diego International Airport (Lindbergh Field.)
Detail of current aeronautical chart of airspace around San Diego International Airport (Lindbergh Field), center near bottom of image. Montgomery field is at the upper right.

Ahead of the 727, a single-engine light airplane, a Cessna 172, N7711G, with an instructor and student aboard, had made two practice ILS approaches to Runway 9 at Lindbergh and departed to the northwest, returning to its base at Montgomery Field (MYF), 6.4 miles (10.3 kilometers) north-northeast of SAN.

Approach Control called, Cessna 7711G, radar contact, maintain VFR at or below 3500 [1,067 meters], fly heading 070, vector (for) final approach course.” The pilot of the Cessna, David T. Boswell, acknowledged the east-north-easterly heading and the altitude restriction. About 15 seconds later, at 08:59:39, the controller informed the 727, “Additional traffic’s twelve o’clock, three miles, just north of the field, northeastbound, a Cessna One Seventy-Two climbing VFR out of one thousand four hundred.” [427 meters] At 08:59:50, First Officer Fox reported, Okay, we’ve got that other twelve.”

Radar tracks show that N7711G initially maintained the assigned heading but after about one minute, turned 20° right to 090°, the same heading as that of Flight 182.

At 09:00:23, Approach Control acknowledged Flight 182: “Okay, sir, maintain visual separation, contact Lindbergh Tower 133.3. Have a nice day, now!”

Flight 182 switched radio frequencies and Captain McFeron checked in with the tower: “Lindbergh, PSA 182. Downwind.” The Tower Controller responded, “PSA 182, Lindbergh Tower, traffic 12 o’clock, one mile, a Cessna.”

In the cockpit there was confusion about the reported conflicting traffic ahead. Captain McFeron asked, “Is that the one we’re looking at?” Flight Engineer Wahne replied, “Yeah—but I don’t see him now.” McFeron called the Tower, “Okay, we had it there a minute ago.” The Controller replied, “One Eighty-Two, roger.” The Captain continued, “I think he’s passed off to our right.”

Inside the cockpit, McFeron said, “He was right over there a minute ago.” Wahne agreed, “Yeah.”

Lindbergh Tower authorized Flight 182 to land, “PSA 182—cleared to land,” and McFeron acknowledged with, “PSA 182’s cleared to land.” He then asked the Flight Engineer, “Are we clear of that Cessna?” Wahne said, “Supposed to be!” McFeron responded, “I guess.” In the cockpit’s jump seat, one of the two off-duty captains said, “I hope!”

At 09:01:21, Captain McFeron stated, “Oh, yeah, before we turned downwind, I saw him about one o’clock, probably behind us now.”

First Officer Fox called for the wing flaps to be lowered and then at 09:01:31 he asked for the landing gear to be lowered. At 09:01:38, Fox said, There’s one underneath [pause] I was looking at that inbound there.” Flight 182 was now descending through 2,600 feet (793 meters).

At 09:01:47, the Flight 182’s Cockpit Voice Recorder picked up the sound of the collision.

The Boeing 727 struck the Cessna 172 from above and behind, destroying it. The airliner was heavily damaged and on fire. With the flight controls damaged, Flight 182 rolled and turned to the right. On a heading of approximately 200°, it crashed into residential neighborhood in a 300 mile per hour (483 kilometers per hour), 50° dive.

According to seismographs at the Museum of Natural History, San Diego, the impact occurred at 09:02:07 a.m., Pacific Daylight Savings Time (16:02:07 UTC).

The largest piece of the Cessna impacted six blocks away, near 32nd Street and Park Avenue.

PSA Flight 182, a Boeing 727-214, registration N533PS, shortly before impact, 0902 a.m., 25 September 1978.
PSA Flight 182, a Boeing 727-214, registration N533PS, shortly before impact, 0902 a.m., 25 September 1978. (Hans Wendt, County of San Diego)

All 135 persons aboard the 727, both persons on the Cessna, and seven persons on the ground were killed. Another nine persons on the ground were injured. Twenty-two homes in a four-block area were destroyed or damaged.

The last words of the flight deck personnel recorded by the Cockpit Voice Recorder were that of an unidentified voice saying, “Ma, I love you.”

Scene of the crash of Flight 182, 25 September 1978. (San Diego Union-Tribune)
Scene of the crash of Flight 182, 25 September 1978. (San Diego Union-Tribune)

The Pilot in Command of Flight 182, Captain James E. McFeron, had been employed by Pacific Southwest Airlines since 1961. He held an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate and was type-rated in both the Lockheed L-188 Electra and the Boeing 727. He had a total of 14,382 flight hours, with 10,482 hours in the Boeing 727.

First Officer Robert E. Fox, Jr., also held an ATP certificate. Of his 10,049 flight hours, 5,800 were in the 727. He had been with PSA for 9 years.

Flight Engineer Martin J. Wahne had worked for PSA for 11 years. He had 10,800 hours, with 6,587 hours in the Boeing 727.

The Pilot in Command of the Cessna was Gunnery Sergeant David Lee Boswell, U.S. Marine Corps, who was stationed at Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego. Gunnery Sergeant Boswell held Commercial Pilot and Flight Instructor certificates, with Airplane—Single– and Multi–Engine Land ratings. He was receiving instrument flight instruction to apply for an Instrument Rating. Boswell had 407 total flight hours, and had flown 61 hours in the previous 90 days.

The Instructor Pilot on board the Cessna was Martin B. Kazy, Jr., an employee of the aircraft owner, Gibbs Flight Center at Montgomery Field. He held Commercial Pilot and Flight Instructor certificates, with Airplane Single– and Multi–Engine Land, and Instrument–Airplane ratings. He had a total of 5,137 flight hours. Kazy had flown 347 hours in the previous 90 days.

Pacific Southwest Airlines' Boeing 727-214, N533PS, photographed at San Francisco International Airport, September 1975. (Edge to Edge Photography)
Pacific Southwest Airlines’ Boeing 727-214, N533PS, photographed at San Francisco International Airport, September 1974. (Edge to Edge Photography)

The aircraft operated as PSA Flight 182 was a Boeing 727–214, serial number 19688, which made its first flight 4 June 1968. At the time of the accident, the total time on the airframe (TTAF) was 24,088.3 hours. It had made 36,557 takeoffs and landings.

The Boeing 727–200 series was a stretched version of the original –100 model. It was designed to be operated by a flight crew of three, and could carry up to 189 passengers. The –200 was 153 feet, 2 inches (46.685 meters) long with a wingspan of 108 feet, 0 inches (32.918 meters) and overall height of 34 feet, 0 inches (10.363 meters). The empty weight was 98,400 pounds (44,633 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) was 184,800 pounds (83,642 kilograms). The airliner was powered by three Pratt & Whitney JT8D-9 low-bypass axial-flow turbofan engines, rated at 14,500 pounds of thrust at Sea Level for takeoff (5-minute limit), and 12,600 pounds of thrust, maximum continuous power. This gave the 727–200 a maximum cruise speed of 0.9 Mach (610 miles per hour, or 982 kilometers per hour, at 30,000 feet/9,144 meters). Its service ceiling was 42,000 feet (12,802 meters), and the maximum range was 1,956 miles (3,148 kilometers).

1,832 727s were built by Boeing between 1963 and 1984. 1,245 of these were 727-200s.

This 1976 Cessna 172M is similar in appearance to Gibbs Flight Center's N7711G. (Skytamer)
This 1976 Cessna 172M is similar in appearance to Gibbs Flight Center’s N7711G. (Skytamer)

Cessna 172 N7711G was a 1975 Cessna 172M, serial number 17265788. It had 2,993 total flight hours on the airframe (TTAF). It was a single-engine, four-place light airplane with a high wing and fixed tricycle landing gear. 711G was painted white with “mustard” yellow trim. The 172M is 26 feet, 11 inches (8.201 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 0 inch (10.973 meters) and height of 8 feet, 9½ inches (2.680 meters). The empty weight is 1,350 pounds (612 kilograms) and gross weight is 2,300 pounds (1,043 kilograms). It is powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 319.749-cubic-inch-displacement (5.240 liter) Lycoming O-320-E2D horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder direct-drive engine rated at 150 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. The engine drives a two-bladed McCauley fixed-pitch propeller with a diameter of 6 feet, 3 inches (1.905 meters). The engine installed on N7711G engine had 3,086 total hours since new (TSN) and 879 hours since overhaul (TSO). The 172M has a cruise speed of 138 miles per hour (222 kilometers per hour) at 8,000 feet (2,438 meters), and a maximum speed of 142 miles per hour (229 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. The airplane’s service ceiling is 13,100 feet (3,993 meters) and its maximum range is 875 miles (1,408 kilometers).

More than 43,000 Cessna 172s have been built, more than any other airplane type.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

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

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

7 July 1965

McDonnell F-4B-23-MC Bu. No. 152276, the 1,000th McDonnell F-4 Phantom II. (McDonnell Aircraft Corporation)

7 July 1965: The McDonnell Aircraft Corporation delivered the 1,000th production F-4 Phantom II, an F-4B, to the United States Navy. Phantom II MSN 1034 was an F-4B-23-MC Phantom II, assigned Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (“Bu. No.”) 152276.

The fighter was assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314 (VFMA-314), the “Black Knights,” at Da Nang Air Base, Republic of South Vietnam. On  the morning of 24 January 1966, Bu. No. 152276 was flown by Captain Doyle Robert Sprick, USMC, with Radar Intercept Officer 2nd Lieutenant Delmar George Booze, USMC, as one of a flight of four F-4s assigned to drop napalm on a target 7 miles (11 kilometers) southwest of Hue-Phu Bai.

At 10:05 a.m., Captain Albert Pitt, USMC, flying F-4B-22-MC Bu. No. 152265, with RIO 2nd Lieutenant Lawrence Neal Helber, USMC, radioed that he, in company with Captain Sprick, was off the target and returning to Da Nang.

Neither airplane arrived. A search was started at 11:00 a.m. The two-day search was unsuccessful. It is presumed that the two Phantoms collided. All four aviators were listed as missing, presumed killed in action.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather