Norwalk, CA Transport Plane and Bomber Collide In Midair, Feb 1958




An Air Force transport plane and a Navy bomber collided in the air over thickly populated Norwalk Saturday night, killing at least 46 persons and showering flaming wreckage over a wide area.
The Douglas C118 transport, carrying 41, had taken off from Long Beach Air Force Base only minutes before it collided in mid-air with the Navy Neptune P2V patrol bomber.
Like a fireball hurtling out of the night, the fuselage of the C118 smashed into the parking lot behind the Norwalk sheriff's station and exploded at 7:14 p.m.
No one in the sheriff's station was hurt.
The crippled bomber, believed to have been carrying seven men, crashed in the Santa Fe Springs area about 1 1/2 miles north of the transport.
Three of the seven Navy men reportedly survived the crash, while four were killed outright, a preliminary investigation indicated.
The bomber was assigned to Los Alamitos Naval Air Station.
The only reported civilian victim was MRS. EDITH HERNANDEZ, a housewife who was decapitated when a section of the transport wing sliced into a house at 12303 Jersey St., Norwalk.
Armed services are withholding names of military casualties until next of kin are notified.
The Navy said men on the P2V were reservists on a training flight.
Two of the survivors, now at the Hospital ship Haven here, were identified as Lt. Cmdr. ROBERT M. HUBENETTE, 33, operations officer of Monterey Park, a policeman in civilian life and LESLIE W. VAN DYKE, 22, aviation electronics technician 3/c of Laguna Beach. VAN DYKE is a Long Beach State College student.
A third known survivor was not identified. He was taken to Carobil Hospital.
"Only a miracle" prevented a much higher death toll in the crash, Acting Lt. RUDOLPH M. WIGGINS, Norwalk sheriff's station watch commander, said.
If the plane had crashed 100 yards south, it would have "killed at least 100 persons," said WIGGINS.
THe sheriff's station is at Pioneer and Firestone Blvds., in the heart of one of the community's most heavily-populated residential and commercial neighborhoods.
An estimated 25,000 persons swarmed into the area to gape at the flaming wreckage -- the first of them arriving even before fire rigs had set up their equipment.
"Please ask people not to touch any pieces of wreckage or any bodies they many find in this area," pleaded one Air Force captain. "We need every bit of evidence we can get to reconstruct this thing."
The crash of the C118 -- a Long Beach-built military version of the DC-6 transport -- demolished eight patrol cars and seven civilian autos parked behind the sheriff's station.
It also touched off two explosions which shattered the station with bomb-like force. One of the blasts was fired by the gasoline in a 200,000 gallon underground storage tank.
The shock of the crash touched off near-panic among the 23 prisoners in the jail section only about 40 feet from the wreckage.
As gasoline-fed flames roared upward, the screaming prisoners were led from their cells and locked in a tiny booking room in the main part of the sheriff's station.
This was the forepart of a scene of confusion that took over for the next two hours.
Traffic was jammed in all directions as the flames set up a glow in the evening sky.
Civil defense machinery was thrown into action, and police reinforcements were called in from other sheriff's stations and from the Long Beach and Los Angeles police departments.
The two planes had taken off from adjacent airports at almost exactly the same time.
The twin-engine Navy plane lfet the runway at Los Alamitos Naval Air Station, just east of Long Beach, at 7:07 p.m.
One minute later, at 7:08 p.m. the four-engine Air Force transport took off from Long Beach Municipal Airport bound for Maguire Air Force Base, N. J.
The separate flights were to end six minutes later in common disaster.
Exactly how it happened, no one could say.
A minute later, the scene on the ground below was that of a battlefield.
Off-duty officers were called in to duty. Residents of the neighborhood surrounding the sheriff's station first scurried for shelter, then came back to press against fire lines to view the damage.
The home in which MRS. HERNANDEZ was decapitated was about three blocks away, Lt. WIGGINS said.
Other bodies were reported found at 12312 S. Roseton Ave. They were believed to have been occupants of the C118 -- men who had been tossed clear of the flaming wreckage.
As the night deepened, the Air Force called in cranes to lift the heavy engines from the wreckage and search for bodies.
Floodlights splashed day like illumination over the grim scene.
JACK DILDAY of Dilday Mortuary wasa called in to take charge of the bodies of the service personnel.
A field morgue was being set up at the sheriff's station as disaster workers began the task of identifying bodies from the metal dogtags worn around their necks.
The Navy plane crashed about 2 1/2 miles away.
One parachute-shrouded body crashed through the skylight of a near-empty bar, narrowly missing several patrons.
The bomber itself landed in an open area in the oil-rich community of Santa Fe Springs.
The crash occurred exactly one year and a day after a mid-air collision of two planes over Pacoima made headlines across the nation -- and brought demands that flying over populated areas be restricted.
Wreckage of one of those planes landed in a Pacoima schoolyard, killing three children and five airmen.
In Saturday night's crash, part of the Air Force transport thudded into a home, trapping two elderly residents. They were rescued by two boys who, running to the crash scene, heard their cries.
Extent of injuries of the survivors of the Navy crash was not immediately known.
Deputy sheriff KERMIT KYNELL saw the Santa Fe Springs crash. He was the first officer on the scene.
He said one survivor was lying 150 feet from the wreckage and two others were alive in the wreckage.
The man outside the plane moaned, "I don't know what happened ... I don't know what happened. I'm from Los Alamitos Naval Air Station."

Independent Press-Telegram Long Beach California 1958-02-02


I was raised in Norwalk but

I was raised in Norwalk but wasn't born yet when this accident happened but I do give my children a lesson on some of Norwalk's history planning one day to take them to the memorial to pay our respect to those who perished in this tragedy.

Norwalk air crash.

There is a memorial at the site with the names of all the victoms

norwalk mid air

Me and three other friends were out that night in the neighborhood pulling pranks, Richard Sneed, my best friend, Martin and i think Eddie Vickers. We sat on the corner grass to have a smoke and I looked up in the clear night. I said to the guys, "looks like those two planes are heading for each other.." They said, " No, they are at different altitudes" I continued to watch and nearly right above us they crashed! Sky lit up, the smaller plane immediatly nose dived toward the dump in the neighboring city. The larger plane seemed suspended above, wings slowly drifting down mostly on fire. It was horrifying. Beyond belief. The main body of the larger plane very slowly began to spin and looked as though it was headed toward the Police Station, on fire. I watched in disbelief as i saw it hit the ground about 3/4 of a mile away. I ran home and hid under my bed. When i came out reporters wanted to interview me...They wouldnt believe it was two PLANES. I explained over and over but took the news a long time to get the story right. I'm now 72 and still think about that night. Even after a tour in Viet Nam it effects me. My God rest those souls.

1958 Plane Collision Norwalk CA

Very surreal to read your post. I was I was 4 1/2 years old when the collision occurred, thank God we were in La Mirada visiting family. The house you referenced was probably ours. The engine of one airplane fell in the middle of our home at 12209 Roseton Ave. Had we been home, but for the grace of God, my brother, mother and I would surely have been killed. While we were not in Norwalk at the time of collision, we drove from La Mirada to Norwalk during the immediate aftermath, it was horrifying. Fires, screaming, people in shock, fear, seeing our home destroyed was a nightmare. I remember and can still feel the fear rise up from my core. My mother, brother and I had to live with my Aunt's family for a very long time and our home was never the same. Very traumatic for all those who experienced this terrible accident. My prayers go out to all who lost their lives that day, those who lived through the experiences, we are all united together.

Norwalk Plane Crash

I was 10 years old at the time of the disaster. We lived in Culver City at the time. My dad's brother Julian Reynolds had a car repair garage in downtown Norwalk. I do not remember the streets but we were very close to the Sheriff's station. Our car always needed Uncle Julian's attention and so we had spent the better part of the day there while he worked on repairing our car. We heard the planes collide and ran outside and saw the fireball and watched in horror as the fuselage fell behind the Station. I remember seeing the firetrucks trying to go down the street but the traffic jam was so tight they could hardly move. We could not go home that night because of all that came afterward so we spent the night at Julian's house on Ibex Street. I can still close my eyes and see that fireball and plane falling out of the sky...

my best friends' dad owned the flying A gas station

My best friend at the time now deceased
dad owned the gas station that the plane crashed into. His dad sold the
station right after that and opened at
a new location in La Habra, Ca

I was there

I was on my way to base at the Seal Beach Naval Station. I had Navy Reserve friends on that flight. I ressponded to the depressed area that the fuselage landed in. There were so many cars on the street that emergency traffic could not get in. We tried to resuce passengers and were hampered by looky loos. i hadd friends die that day and I watched and could do nothing more.

Plane crash in Norwalk

I was 11 when the plane crash happen. I was going to my friend apt. when we saw the fireball and blast. I went running home to tell my Mom and Dad and they got mad at me.. Said I saw no such thing. Of course the next day they found out. Part of that plane came threw the roof where my at was working, Arvo's Market and landed 10 feet from her. They lived close by so my Uncle was on the seen right after it happened. A lot of people will still argue that they never heard of two planes crashing in our area.

C-118 Passengers of Mid-air Crash over Norwalk, CA 2-2-58

CDR Bol,

Thanks for sharing this background concerning your father and his death in this tradegy.

I was living in Norwalk at the time of this incident, and I remember it well, hearing the collision and subsequent explosion. I was 6 years old when this occurred.

I can only imagine how you felt at the time.

I wanted to write to you as I think that we have a connection. I am also a retired Naval Officer, starting as an enlisted Seabee, EA3, and taking most all of my training at the Naval Construction Battalion Center, Port Hueneme, CA, then attending Civil Engineer Corps Officer School (CECOS) there as well.

I retired in 2010 from the Navy, but am still working for the government, National Park Service, DOI, as a project manager.

Thanks again for sharing,
V/R Michael Morelli, CAPT, CEC, USN (Ret)

1958 Norwalk Midair Collision

I observed the initial fireball from this collision. I was driving with my girlfriend on Century Boulevard in Lynwood and suddenly there was a big fireball in the distance. I assumed it was a midair collision, given the altitude, and was surprised that anyone survived in either aircraft. Eight years later I was a deputy sheriff and worked a couple of weekends in patrol out of the Norwalk Station. They were still talking about it even then.