Santa Maria, CA Airliner Crashes, Tragedy Averted, Oct 1959


Cool, decisive action by a San Mateo flight attendant and by an off-duty stewardess was credited today with the miraculous escape of 19 of 20 persons aboard a Pacific Airlines twin-engine plane which crashed near Santa Maria, killing the Peninsula co-pilot. Pilot of the plane, who suffered severe injuries, was CHARLES W. CRAIG, 42, 1359 Parrott drive, San Mateo.
Five Peninsula residents escaped, most with minor injuries, as flight attendant DONALD ROBESKY, 31, 1 East Fortieth Street, San Mateo, calmed the passengers.
Among those shaken up or treated for minor injuries were:
GORDON ANTHONY, 36, 415 Park avenue, San Carlos.
MRS. MARIA THOMAS, 44, 4021 Second street, Santa Clara.
Killed was co-pilot JOSEPH FLANAGAN, 31, 2378 Lida drive, Mountain View, who leaves a wife and three children.
CRAIG CARDOZA, BARBARA PACE, 17, of Oakland, and DAVID H. HUTCHISON, his wife, LAURA, and 8-month-old son were kept overnight at Sisters hospital, Santa Maria.
ANTHONY told The Times today that unrestrained credit should go to ROBESKY and to a United Air Lines stewardess, CYNTHIA KING, 24, 239 Twenty-fifth avenue, San Francisco, for the escape of the passengers.
"We had just taken off with full tanks," he said.
"Suddenly flames shot out of the left engine."
"The pilot tried to bank as though to head back to the field but the plane tipped at a 45-degree angle. He quickly pulled up right and then we pancaked into this fence beside a road."
"There was a car on the road. It looked like a lovers' lane situation. I guess that's why we didn't land there. It took off out of there when the plane crashed."
"Before the plane crashed, ROBESKY went up and down the aisle telling passengers to be calm, and to fasten seat belts."
"I don't think he had time to fasten his. He flipped completely over when we hit. But he landed on his feet and continued to talk to the passengers."
"He was joined by this girl, CYNTHIA, who was off duty as an air line hostess. They marshaled the passengers out through the door, quickly and quietly, helping them along."
Another passenger, PHILIP FRENCH, Paso Robles, a rancher and former army combat captain, was up front. He turned to the passengers and said, "Be calm, just follow me."
He assisted MRS. HUTCHISON, who was clutching her baby by the hand, leading her out the door.
'Soaked With Gas'
The plane was soaked with gasoline from the ruptured tanks. It had nosed down and "split open in the front like an egg," said ANTHONY. There was a hole in the fence and the passengers went through it before the gasoline might ignite or explode.
ANTHONY said that FLANNAGAN, who was thrown out still strapped to his seat when it hit, appeared to be under the plane.
He said that CRAIG appeared to have been thrown out, too, but forward of the wreck. CRAIG suffered severe lacerations and shock, he said. There appeared to be no broken bones. ANTHONY himself escaped with only a scratch of his elbow.
"None of us were hurt much," he said. "We just stood there shaking."
The plane had slilced through high tension lines and a cluster of trees before it smashed.
"It was a miracle that everyone was not killed," said a fireman who was among the first at the scene.
"They - everything, plane and passengers - were just floating in gasoline."
The fire engines raced up from Vandenburg air force base missile facility within ten minutes of the crash to play foam over the plane to prevent explosion.
"The pilot must have shut everything off just in time," commented ANTHONY.
Saw Flash.
MISS PACE said all she saw was "aa flash on the wing" just after takeoff when the plane was about 500 feet in the air.
"The next thing I knew , we had hit the ground," she said.
Investigators today are attempting to determine the cause of the crash.
ROBESKY, shaken up and scratched but otherwise unhurt, has been with the air line since 1951.
ANTHONY is sales manager of the San Francisco branch of the Keuffel and Esser company, surveying and drafting equipment manufacturers.
His remarks about the calmness of the passengers in the face of tragedy were echoed by FRENCH.
"I have been in many tight spots before, but never have I seen a group as calm as this one was," he said.

The Times San Mateo California 1959-10-27