Santa Ana, CA Fighter Jets Collide In Mid Air, Jan 1967


Santa Ana, Calif. (AP) -- "Oh, My God! I hope I got it past the building!"
These were Marine Capt. JAMES POWELL'S last words, minutes after his Skyhawk jet attack plane collided with another in a rainstorm Sunday.
Both disabled planes crashed into a Southern California retirement community, setting two dwellings on fire. POWELL and four residents died.
Four other persons were injured, three residents of the Leisure World Community and the pilot of the second A4b Skyhawk.
Many residents of the community 14 miles southeast of Santa Ana and 45 miles southeast of Los Angeles were away at church services when the planes crashed.
"No one had a chance," said Dr. Adrian Irvine, a retired physician. "I looked out a window and saw a mass of flames engulf the building."
Laura Stevens, like Irving a Leisure World resident, was reading a newspaper when she heard what sounded like thunder.
She saw a neighboring unit enveloped in flames and "people running out of the building carrying bundles of clothing."
As plane wreckage ripped through two of the two-story buildings, other persons were trapped temporarily by flames and debris.
A fuel tank fell from one of the planes as it smashed through the first building.
Investigators several hours after the crash teorized that the radio in one of the planes may have gone dead as the pilot was being guided toward a landing at El Toro Marine Air Station.
Both planes were from Marine Attack Squadron 132, Naval Air Station, Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn,N.Y. Their pilots were scheduled for two weeks' reserve training.
Although El Toro is about five miles from the 3,600-acre housing development, Leisure World lies squarely in the instrument approach path to the airstrips.
The community, with apartment-like dwellings sold to retired people, was built over objections of the Department of Defense. A compromise reachedin 1962 ermitted the Ross Cortees Development Co. to go ahead by agreeing to reserve a half-mile strip touching the air station for nonresidential use.
Both of the buildings destroyed by the planes' wreckage were adjacent to the half-mile strip.
As more than 100 firemen battled smoke and flame, the bodies of LEON LAUDERBACH, 77, a paraplegic; HAROLD BERMAN and his wife MARGARET; and H. H. KENYON, 87, were recovered.
POWELL, of New Milford, N.J., was fatally injured when wind caught his parachute and smashed him against a stucco wall.
The other pilot, Capt. FRANK GAMBELLI, 29, of Livingston, N.J., also ejected. He was found near his wrecked plane, suffering from shock, and was taken to El Toro's base hospital.

News Tribune Fort Pierce Florida 1967-01-23