Whittier, CA Commuter Plane And Light Plane Collide, Jan 1975



Fourteen persons were killed Thursday when a twin-engine commuter airliner and a light plane from a Long Beach flying school collided over Whittier, raining bodies and debris on a school yard where students were watching a basketball game.
No one on the ground was reported injured but several homes were damaged when twisted hunks of metal fell over a 2 1/2 square-block residential area in county territory just west of Whittier.
Authorities said the crash came at 4:10 p.m. when a Golden West Airlines turboprop De Havilland Otter carrying 10 passengers and two crew members collided with a single-engine Cessna 150 carrying a pilot and a student pilot.
The Cessna, leased to Cessnair Aviation, Inc., 3501 Lakewood Blvd., had taken off from Long Beach Airport about 3:30 p.m. on a training flight.
The commuter plane was on a 60-mile non-instrument trip, Flight 281, from Ontario International Airport to Los Angeles International Airport. The pilot was using visual rules, airline officials said.
The bodies of the victims were taken to the county coroner's office in Los Angeles.
The coroner's office released a list of the victims shortly before noon today.
The dead included Cessnair's chief pilot WILLIAM VANDERLINDEN, and student MIKE GORDON.
At a basketball game at Katherine Edwards Intermediate School, where about 300 persons were watching an interschool game, spectators heard the collision and looked up to see bodies and airplane parts falling toward the schoolyard.
Several of the players, seventh and eighth graders, "stood motionless, like they were in shock," said one spectator, but another, FRANK GARCIA, said, "We all started running over the courts. Everyone was really scared."
Several teachers helped deputies locate blankets and cover a half-dozen bodies which landed on or near the court. School had been released only one hour before the crash.
"It just seemed like they (the planes) went right into each other," said a witness. "Then they just exploded, and there were pieces flying everywhere."
RANDY MORGAN, 16, of 14748 Carfax Ave., Bellflower, said he was working in the neighborhood when he heard an explosion and looked up.
"I saw the wings and all split out, and then there were a couple more explosions after that," he said.
"A piece of tail flew down and hit about two doors from me, so I hid in a doorway. A pilot's hat landed right by me, and there was a little blood in it," the Bellflower High School sophomore said.
A decapitated body strapped in a seat, pilot's wings pinned to the shirt, landed nearby.
The light plane crashed about two blocks from the school, spraying debris over an intersection.
There was no explosion or fire when the planes hit the ground but several witnesses said they heard an explosion when the planes collided. Some witnesses said the Golden West plane went into a dive after a wing sheared off and others said bodies spilled from a hole in the fuselage.
Wreckage fell on several homes in the area. CLAUDE AGUIRRE, 32, said he was in the bathroom when he heard a crash and went to his 3-year-old daughter's rooom and found the engine complete with propeller on the floor. One of the plane's wings crashed into a rear patio at the home.
"I heard a loud crash and the house shook like an earthquake," AGUIRRE said later. "Thank God no one else was home at the time. I couldn't believe what happened. I called my wife at work and told her -- guess what -- we've got a plane in our house ... we've got an airplane in VERONICA'S room .. a propeller."
The little girl was at her babysitter's home at the time.
JAVIER RAMOS, who lives two blocks from AGUIRRE, said he saw the planes plunging to the ground. "I could hear all the stuff hitting the roof. I ran into the house to get my family together and we got out," he said.
Another area resident, ARNOLD R. PATE, 58, rushed home to find the wing of the Golden West plane on his lawn.
"Some kids told me it just skimmed over the roof of my house from the north," he said. "It landed where I usually park my car. It's a miracle no one was hurt on the ground. I feel sorry for those who were killed."
"One thing I know -- I've got one helluva big plane wing in my front yard and I don't know what to do with it."
The area was sealed off by sheriff's deputies and highway patrolmen to discourage hundreds of sightseers from interfering with rescue and clean up operations.
Federal authorities immediately began an investigation of the accident, which was the first in Golden West's seven year history.
The airline has 11 planes, all De Havilland Twin Otters, which ferry passengers between airports in the Los Angeles area.
The accident was the worst local air disaster since June 6, 1971, when a Marine F4 Phantom jet collided with a Hughes Airwest jetliner over the San Gabriel Mountains, killing 50 persons.

Los Angeles County Coroner THOMAS T. NOGUCHI today announced that the following is a list of persons who reportedly were in the two aircraft that collided in mid-air Thursday over Whittier. (No addresses were disclosed.)

Press Telegram Long Beach California 1975-01-10


Mid Air Collision, January 9, 1975

My parents were two of the people on board this commuter plane. Thank you for sharing your comments. They seem to match what we saw on the news and read in the paper. What they did not say was that they could not dispose of anything and in my parents suitcases were some oranges they were bringing back with them. They were rotted before they could send anything to us and it ruined clothing that was in their luggage! Someone returned my dad's camera that was in a metal case and found approx. a mile away. They sent is to me and did not return it to the airline. This was truly a gift as there were a couple of items in there that no one knew about that I found later.

My aunt lived at Norwalk and

My aunt lived at Norwalk and Mines and told us the story of what happened when the planes collided that day. All the details in these stories match what she saw from her vantage point to the south of the school and it seems the adults had narrative skills the kids lacked, but now have a place here. I was a kid at the time too, and back then, no one had any interest in what we had to say. i am glad there is this spot for the students there that day to share their stories.

I was 24, married and with

I was 24, married and with two children at the time the air planes collided over my house. I lived at 11024 Reichling Lane directly across the street from the school yard on the L lot (house behind a house). I was looking up the date while talking to my son this evening and saw this article that I had never seen before. I was surprised to see a couple of comments about this incredible time. I too have told this story 100 times and reading the articles and the persons commenting. Funny how you remember it perfectly. I thought to connect to the people posting on this page - like we have been through something together almost 41 years ago. I thought to tell you all my story too so you won't feel alone in your sadness. We lived on an L lot where you go down a driveway and see that there is two houses directly behind 2 house up front. If you google my address then you will see I was behind the blue house. One of those houses up front received a Pilot in their patio. It was a very tiny patio too. They said that if he had not gone through the tree to slow him down that he would have surely gone through my roof. The one to the left up front of the blue house is where he landed. I could never drive or walk down that driveway without remembering that man landing there. No matter how much my curiosity tugged at me I didn't look over that short wall. It took the coroner over 2 hours to pick the pieces up. It became a zoo in a short amount of time after the crash and around the anniversary it was like a parade. What happened for me was that I heard a loud bang and what I thought was the kids playing with the trashcans rolling them in the street so I ran out to see. The noise went for a long time. No cans but something shinny across the street in the school yard drew me to the fence then to the baseball backdrop to the left of my house and looking down I saw a man's shoulder, arm and hand with his wedding ring still on one of the fingers. It is not normal and there is nothing I had experienced to relate in any of my thoughts. I just had the since that I wasn't safe and that I should go home. On the way back was when I saw the hydraulic jack from one of the planes dug in a foot into the hard ground and about 6 feet from the front door. I wondered if there were bodies on my roof and decided that I didn't want to know. I heard the neighbor scream and that is when I knew about the pilot. I watched as it started to get dark and the body bags were being piled up one on top of another as they collected what they could in the school yard. It was dark and they had floodlights lit up until about 2 am. I remembered how interesting it was that the big parts of the plane landed there and in the park a block away and of course the man 2 doors over. I thought it crazy that not one person of the 300 in the school yard at the time were not hurt with the sliding metal going across the grass. Later I found out about the man still strapped into his chair that had no head, and we prayed for the lady where the one man landed in her front yard. I know he landed with his arms and legs tucked to his back so all you saw was his torso because of the indent. For a very long time you could walk past the house and see the two foot indent where he was. I don't know if this is true but I had heard that the woman that lived there needed to immediately go to a counselor for some help because it was so traumatic for her. They sent a group of counselors to each of our houses to see if we needed any help about 3 days later. I remember the house that had the engine and cone of the plane in his daughter's room really well. He said that he was in the bathroom when he thought a car had driven into his house. It wasn't until he passed it in the hall, looked outside, and in returning looked to his right to see it through his roof and into his daughters room in her crib. He let me in so I could see it. They had to get a crane to pull it up and out. I remember it taking over two years before we found out what really happened with the planes. In the mean time for about a year we were a side show with the traffic and look-e-loos. I can say that I was never the same after that. I know you all were not too. In my 30's I was in an airplane accident where the airplane was hit with lightening in a storm. Thank goodness we were close to the ground when it happened. All I could think was that I too would be a story to tell and I too would be parts of me everywhere for someone else to talk about. It took years before I would get on an airplane again and to this day I have to meditate to get me through. I could not imagine such an accident to happen on such a beautiful day as the one in 1975. There was not a cloud in the sky and the light from the sun shining on metal of one plane causing it to disappear from site and then boom. I am not sure who was at the wheel in the Cessna - they were on a training run. At that time they didn't have radar and these two planes were flying too low for that to make a difference anyway. It will always be a sad sad time for me to remember how quickly they lost their lives. I still remember that man with his ring on when I tell the story for the 100th time. With each person they almost can't believe that something like that could happen - but I know that it does. Yep I pray for the man that I found because I know he had a wife. Reading the comments above allowed me to see that I am not the only one still affected by that experience. Carry on.

Plane crash

I was a student of Lake Center Junior High School, Santa Fe Springs, Ca. playing a basketball game at Katherine Edwards Elementary School. I was just taken out of the game and was resting. I was lying down, on my sweats, when I heard a loud bang. I opened my eyes, as I was already lying down, and saw what appeared to be dynamite that exploded in a large box. There were small pieces floating everywhere. My coach grabbed me, by my shirt, and pushed me to run and I heard everybody screaming "run." To be honest, I wasn't sure why we were running. I had no idea what just had happened. I ran to the fence and we kind of just started to walk back to the basketball court, when somebody started to yell run again. This time I saw a plane's tail section falling slowly to the grassy field. I ran back to the fence and again started walking slowly back to the basketball court. I saw a decapitated man, seat belted in a chair, sitting up. A fuselage landed where I was laying, a female splatted on the basketball court, and arms and legs splattered all around the area. My coach was covering the bloody mess with our sweats. The police were wrapping up body parts and us children were being escorted back to the buses. I called my mom when I returned to school and she and my dad were just in disbelief of what I just had witnessed. I can tell you this...my coach saved my life! I am 53 years old and went through years of nightmares and to this day I am not a fan of flying. I bet I have told this story a hundred times, but all who listens just have blank stares. I guess you would just had to been there...

1975 mid-air collision Whittier,Ca.

I also was a witness to the airplane crash that day. I was a student at Katherine Edwards Jr. High at the time.I was at home playing basketball a couple of blocks away from the school with friends when the 2 planes collided. We heard a thunderous sound and looked up to see the commuter planes fuselage spiralling downward and the wings were spinning downward horizontally towards the ground.The sky was full of debri. We all jumped on our bikes and made our way to the school and were amazed by the giant tail section and fuselage sitting in the middle of the field. We jumped the fence and immediately our attention was drawn to an obvious dead man still strapped in his seat. We then ran to the fuselage where there was a leg protruding from the wreckage,I was in a state of disbelief. Alerted by screaming behind us towards the basketball courts we then made our way over there to see a gaping splatter hole with a human body parts all over the place. You could tell it was a woman that hit the blacktop because there was a dismembered leg that still had the pantyhose and shoe on it. My friends grandmother lived in a house adjacent to the school field where a mans body had impacted in her front yard. It was a horrible site , the man hit so hard that he imbedded about 2ft into the ground! His head was half gone. This is the 1st time I've talked about this horrible day in any length. I also feel compelled to talk about it. I was 13yrs old at the time and I am 51yrs old now...I bottled that day up and tried to block it out for years! I kinda feel relieved now!!

GWA 261 Midair collision witness

I was sitting westbound at the intersection of Whittier and E. Washington when I caught a glimpse of the Otter at my 11:00 position. My mind registered it and my eyes returned to the intersection where I was awaiting the signal to change. I had two passengers and the stereo was playing, but as I returned focus to the intersection, mind was nagging me about the Otter and looked back up to review it. When I did, it was right at the point of impact and I saw what appeared to be an explosion of debris, but no fire. The left wing separated immediately and the otter went into a wing over port dive and spin. While that was happening, the separated starboard wing seemed to gain altitude in an opposite spin. I called out to my passengers to "look-up" and they did just seconds after I did. The "explosion" seemed to be very small shreds of metal which also, along with clothing (which we later saw to contain limbs) and other debris. At the time I remember thinking that the other aircraft had actually disintegrated on impact causing the appearance of the flickering small pieces. The event was surreal and no one else in traffic seemed to take notice. As the light changed I made my way through to the left turn lane and made the turn. As we traveled NW on E. Washington, you could still see debris and wreckage falling for at least a minute. I heard sirens and saw the fire truck cross E. Washington onto Mines Blvd, and we followed. I don't know what I was thinking, but it wasn't just curiosity, I felt connected to the life. As we approached the area, the fire truck seemed lost, I assumed because parts were still falling. We made a turn into the direction I estimated impact was, the truck kept going. We wound up parking off Hadley and Dutchess and walked Hadley to the school. At that time the sky was empty with the exception of one lone Golden West Twin Otter orbiting the crash site. My heart was feeling for that crew as I'm certain they could have been friends or at least colleagues with the crew of 261. When we arrived at the school there were pieces and clothing scattered in yards and on the sports field behind the school. We must have been among the first to arrive on scene as there were residents and some kids just kind of walking around silently as if to be in shock. The school yard was fenced and, amazingly, 261 was right in the middle of the field, no one at the school appeared to be injured and the buildings had been missed! By that time the sky had become filled with helicopters and a few fixed wing aircraft, including the orbiting Otter. As we walked the length of the fence, I started to hear people talking between the front yards of the houses across from the schoolyard, there was some crying as well. As I looked down the street, the scene was surreal, almost like the aftermath on a battlefield. I remember one yard had a crater with something "clothed" in it. Surprisingly, there appeared to be no property damage outside the school, just small pieces. As crews started to access the wreckage (about 5 mins. after our arrival on scene) people were gathering at the fence to watch. Law enforcement was quick to seal off access, but we were inside the barricades. I remember that the number of orbiting aircraft grew to about 17 or 18 and I thought another collision may be imminent. As emergency services arrived, we decided to give them berth and leave the area. As we walked back to the car we saw the left wing and engine from the otter nestled in the roof of a two story house. I talked to one of the neighbors who knew that resident to be bedridden with a caregiver. She had found out that the wing had actually fallen on his bed! She said the man had been calling for help to the bathroom and had been tired of waiting for help and forced himself to go without the aid of his caregiver. The wing took his bedroom while he was in the bathroom. As we continued to the car I saw what appeared to be vomit at a storm drain. Because of color I made the comment that somebody had New England clam chowder for lunch. When we got back to the car the three of us were not really talking much. I looked in the sky one final time and bid the crew of that lone Otter my most heartfelt sympathy for what they were enduring.

Later that night, I was recanting the experience with one of the friends who was with me and that's when the full impact hit me. My friend suggested that the chowder may have been something else that was gray. I have kept this story silent until now, I am compelled to tell it. The two aspects I remember most were that; in all the pieces that fell, no one on the ground was injured - how can that be(?) without divine intervention; and that orbiting Otter.