Debris on the Pacoima Junior High School Athletic Field

Debris on the Pacoima Junior High School Athletic Field

A few minutes after 11:00 AM on January 31, 1957, teacher John Buchanan began recording the graduation ceremony being held for 800 students gathered in the San Fernando Valley’s Pacoima Junior High School auditorium. Approximately ten minutes later in the sky above the nearby San Gabriel Mountains an F-89 jet slammed into a new DC-7, rendering both aircraft uncontrollable. 

What Buchanan’s recording ultimately captured that morning was the sound of a tragedy.

Halfway through the recording — immediately after graduation speaker Linda Latrelle says “We have only one life to live…” —  the DC-7 can be heard plummeting into the school’s athletic field just a few hundred feet from the auditorium.

Killed in the crash were three Pacoima students, the pilot of the F-89 and the four-man crew of the DC-7, whose final words to traffic control were, “Uncontrollable–we’re spinning over the Valley. Say goodbye to everybody… we’re going in.” The navigator of the F-89 had parachuted safely to the ground immediately after his jet’s near head-on collision with the  larger aircraft.  However, dozens of students on the Pacoima gym field were injured, many seriously.

The tragedy gained national notoriety when angry Pacoima parents successfully petitioned officials to prohibit future test flights over populated areas. Though the San Fernando Valley was considerably less populated in 1957 than it is today, it was home to hundreds of thousands back then.

In 1987 the crash was spotlighted again in the movie “La Bamba” as the reason Richie Valens, the 50s rock icon and Pacoima favorite son, was afraid to fly. Two years after the Pacoima disaster, Valens was killed along with his fellow performers and tour mates,  J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson and Buddy Holly when their light plane crashed near Clear Lake, Iowa.

*

The quality of the recording is surprisingly good, considering it was recorded on dad’s ancient Wollensak reel-to-reel and that it sat in our garage for decades. The two-minute recording opens with Latrelle’s speech in progress. One minute into the recording, the faint-but-unmistakable sound of a rapidly descending aircraft crescendos into a roar of crashing airplane, immediately followed by the sounds of confusion and fear in the auditorium. The auditorium doors can be heard slamming open from the concussion of the crash. A school official tries to calm the students by announcing, “It was a jet blast. That’s all there is to it. It’s all over,” implying that the deafening sound they had just heard was a sonic boom (it was actually the plane’s wing exploding just above the ground, spraying hot oil and shrapnel in all directions). Against the sound of 800 frightened students and a distant fire bell, an unintelligible announcement is made on the P.A. when the school’s power goes out and the recording winds to a stop. As far as I know, this is the only recording of the Pacoima crash: Click on following link:

[This recording is the property of Russ Buchanan. Unauthorized duplication is prohibited]

The Pacoima crash was of particular significance to my family for a number of reasons. My father and sister were both on the Pacoima campus when it happened — my dad as a teacher and my sister Pam as a thirteen year-old student (it was her birthday). Needless to say, it was a rough few hours for my mom, who had learned of the crash but had to wait an excruciating two hours before dad called to tell her he and her daughter were OK. I can only imagine mom’s reaction to Pam’s account of the crash. Pam, who had just finished Gym, was in the P.E. office waiting for permission to retrieve the jacket she had forgotten on the athletic field when the DC-7 came down on the field. “I thought we were being bombed so I immediately dropped to the floor and assumed the ‘duck and cover’ position,” remembers Pam.

As a five-year-old kid, all I can recall of that day is seeing what appeared to be shiny bits of tin foil falling from the sky — parts of the DC-7 that had broken off after its crippling mid-air collision.

For a chilling and informative first-hand account by an individual who arrived at the school minutes after the crash, click on:  
“‘Eyewitness to the Carnage’ – A Personal Account of the 1957 Pacoima Crash”
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Comments
  1. Sean Sherrod says:

    Wow, haunting yet amazing…thank you for sharing!

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Sean –

      Yeah, “haunting” is right. A few months ago I was listening to the recording for the zillionth time, and decided to put it up on the blog. I was a little hesitant to post it at first because I didn’t want to remind the families of that horrible day in such a “real” way. However, I figured with so many years having passed it would be alright.

      Thanks for the comment,

      Russ Buchanan

      Like

      • Sean Sherrod says:

        Russ,

        I TOTALLY understand and COMPLETELY respect your thought process regarding posting this, however to me this audio represents a piece of history for those of us who live or have lived in the valley as well as those who are familiar with the Ritchie Valens story. I wish that there was more footage, pictures, audio, and varies stories recalling the events that took place that day available on the internet. In short, my opinion is….GREAT JOB, MY FRIEND!!!

        Take care,
        Sean S.

        Like

      • Peter Campbell (Now of Duluth, MN) says:

        I was in the Auditorium as a B 9th grade student. Both of my younger sisters attended the elementary school next door to Pacoima Junior High. I lived over on Hadden Ave a little south of PJH.
        I listened to the recording of the DC-7B comming down. It seemed longer in person. But the recording captured the sound it made as if it were yesterday.
        My father was a Los Angeles Policeman stationed at the Van Nuys Station. He came to the School right after the crash.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Russ Buchanan says:

        Hi Peter –

        Yeah, I’ll bet it seemed longer. Compared to the tape, the real thing probably seemed like an eternity. Terrifying moments seem to go by in slo-mo.

        Was your dad assigned to work the crash or did he go there to see if you were OK?

        RB

        Like

      • Nanci says:

        Russell-
        Did you ever go by the name Rusty? Did you live on OBeck or Oback???(sp) Street? Do you remember a little girl who lived across the street named Nancy? This is so weird, I just happened to be thinking of that air plane crash tonite and I thought I’d look up to see if there was anything about it on the internet and boom, Russell Buchanan name popped up, I do believe we were good friends at age 5, I may even have a pic of you and I playing together, I’ll look later and send sometime. Well, this plane crash was horrendous, I will never forget it, I remember parts of the plane landing in our backyard, I think I was walking home from Beachy Avenue Elementary School when it happened, about 2 blocks away at around 11 a.m. or so.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Russ Buchanan says:

        Hey Nanci –

        You’ve got the right Russell. Look in your email — I wrote you.

        RB

        Like

      • bill ritchie says:

        Russ What does the school look like now?  Are tere any photos of the site as it is today? Bill Ritchie

        From: Russ Buchanan To: billscessn99@yahoo.com Sent: Thursday, June 4, 2015 1:54 AM Subject: [New comment] Pacoima Jr. High School Airplane Crash of 1957 (audio recording as it happened) #yiv9852227305 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv9852227305 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv9852227305 a.yiv9852227305primaryactionlink:link, #yiv9852227305 a.yiv9852227305primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv9852227305 a.yiv9852227305primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv9852227305 a.yiv9852227305primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv9852227305 WordPress.com |

        Russ Buchanan commented: “Hey Nanci -You’ve got the right Russell. Look in your email — I wrote you.RB” | |

        Like

      • Russ Buchanan says:

        Hey Bill – If you mean Beachy, I don’t know. I haven’t seen it in years. I do still live in the Valley, but far from good old Beachy. Whenever I play golf at Hansen Damn, I always try to drive through the old neighborhood. It still looks pretty darned good. If you mean Pacoima Junior, I saw it a few years ago and it still looks like the fine learning institution we knew.

        RB

        Like

      • Susy M Kay says:

        Hi, my distant cousin was Evan Clark Meddy Elsner who was killed as a result of this crash. Evans mom, Irene Johnson Meddy Elsner was my grandma Ruth Johnson Launs cousin .. Later, there was some kind of dedication ceremony that my grandparents flew out to from Chicago. There was a tree planted to honor each of the boys that were killed. I was young and that is all I know. Today. I was doing some research on this so thanks for posting the information. Even though I never met Evan, I grew up hearing about what happened. It made an impact on me.
        Sincerely, Susan Masters Kowalewski, Batavia, Illinois.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Russ Buchanan says:

        Hi Susy –

        Thanks for writing. I think my sister and my father knew your cousin. I believe Evan was in one of dad’s classes. Thinking of Evan and the other boys makes me wonder how their lives would have gone — had fate been kinder.

        RB

        Like

      • Pam Bunce says:

        Hey Rusty,
        Sister Pam here. I wanted to reply to Evan’s cousin. I knew Evan well. He and his family were members of the Pacoima Congregational Church. Evan and I were in youth group together. We often walked home together from Pacoima Junior High. He lived just a couple of streets over from where we lived.

        I can still see him so clearly after these 58 years. He had red hair and freckles, and a great sense of humor. He was just a really good guy and very well liked.

        Like

      • Russ Buchanan says:

        Big Sis –

        I was just a tyke, but somehow I remembered your Evan connection — and that he had red hair and freckles. Pretty amazing, considering that today that same brain can’t even remember where it put its keys.

        Thanks for writing and for your nice words about Evan,

        Your bro

        Like

    • sandy says:

      I was five years Oldfield at a nearby nursery school when this happened. I saw it all and it has haunted me all my life. Later while I was in grade school I became friends with a girl who’s brother was killed in the crash.

      Thanks for posting this

      Like

      • Russ Buchanan says:

        Hi Sandy –

        Thanks for writing.

        I suppose the single most interesting aspect of this story and the recording is how many people were, as you put it, “haunted” their entire lives by this tragedy. Even people who lived a considerable distance away — some who only read about it in the paper — were profoundly affected.

        Thanks for your input,

        RB

        Like

    • Larry McPherson says:

      I was just 6 years old and leaving kindergarten at Beachy Elementary School, just west of Pacoima Jr. Hi. I was walking out the school gate when I heard and then saw the DC 7 crashing. The teacher on gate duty lead me and other kids back into a classroom. I was sure it was a Russian rocket attack because of the mushroom cloud that climbed into the sky after the plane hit the ground. Later I remember waiting with my mom to find out if my brother, a student at Pacoima Jr. Hi, was OK. I remember how scared my brother and I were, I still can vividly see that that plane crashing.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Russ Buchanan says:

        Hi Larry,

        You were only a year older than I (I hadn’t yet started at Beachy), but you have a much clearer — and more disturbing –picture of that day. Even at the tender age of six, a kid knows when an object that big falls out of the sky, something is very wrong. Both our families were put through an emotional wringer that day.

        Thanks for commenting,

        RB

        Like

    • Joseph Pugh says:

      My Great Uncle Mike aka Mike Galasso was in this. He got doused with boiling hot oil from the plane. Im glad he is still alive to this day. Stubborn bastard haha.

      Like

      • Russ Buchanan says:

        Hi Joseph –

        Yeah, a few other commenters wrote about either being sprayed with hot oil or seeing other kids covered with the stuff — I wonder if they were remembering seeing your uncle.

        RB

        Like

      • Joseph, I knew your great uncle, Vito Galasso. He was active in the Pacoima Chamber of Commerce and community business activities. Russ, I also knew Pam. My mother, Pauline Taylor, covered the story as a reporter for the Pacoima Post. Our pastor, Rev Aaron L Powers was there helping parents find their children. I was in class, a distance from the ball fields, but we saw the flash and thought it was a bomb. We had to get under our desks. Sad time for all.

        Like

      • Russ Buchanan says:

        Hi Jill – Pam often checks in to read the latest comments here. I’ll tell her you said hello. Thanks for commenting.
        RB

        Like

      • bill ritchie says:

        Russ Is the school still there and has the neighborhood changed much?  Is there an type of memorial to those who perished?y Bill Ritchie

        From: Russ Buchanan To: billscessn99@yahoo.com Sent: Monday, March 9, 2015 3:23 AM Subject: [New comment] Pacoima Jr. High School Airplane Crash of 1957 (audio recording as it happened) #yiv7212670403 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv7212670403 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv7212670403 a.yiv7212670403primaryactionlink:link, #yiv7212670403 a.yiv7212670403primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv7212670403 a.yiv7212670403primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv7212670403 a.yiv7212670403primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv7212670403 WordPress.com |

        Russ Buchanan commented: “Hi Jill – Pam often checks in to read the latest comments here. I’ll tell her you said hello. Thanks for commenting.RB” | |

        Like

    • anthony says:

      I feel so bad for the co pilot..when he said in his last radio message “Told you we should of brought chutes, Good- by everybody ” That kills me…My God I hope he did not suffer.

      Like

      • Russ Buchanan says:

        Thanks for commenting, Anthony.
        Yeah, I know what you mean about the copilot’s goodbye. I can’t begin to imagine the terror and sadness he must have been feeling. I’d like to think that in his and the others’ final moments, a kind of calm acceptance came over them. Who knows?

        RB

        Like

      • NED DIMAGGIO says:

        I agree sad..

        Like

      • Kevin LaVine says:

        The last transmission from the co-pilot was from Archie Twitchell, an uncle of mine. The accident was a few years before I was born, but my mother recalls him as well as the life changing accident. I’ll refer to to this site which I’m sure she will find interesting. In an odd twist of fate, a few years ago, I met a friend for a drink and there were 3 other patrons and the bar tender at the bar. Come to find out, with the exception of me, all were native Southern Californians. When I asked them if any of them remembered the accident, they all said yes, and they had all lived in Pacoima at the time, and were in elementary school. It was something they didn’t know about each other. Only one of them had a sibling at the Junior High that day, who was unharmed. What was very strange, is that the tragedy connected us all to each other.

        Like

      • Russ Buchanan says:

        Hi Kevin –
        Wow. It’s unusual enough to meet a fellow native Southern Californian these days, let alone four — all connected in some way to the crash. Many commenters on these pages were in nearby elementary schools when it happened. Who knows, maybe one of your new acquaintances has written here.
        Thanks for commenting, Kevin, and I hope your mom finds the site interesting.

        RB

        Like

      • Terry Brown says:

        After the crash I was in the hospital for several months. When I got out I found that my parents had arranged to move to Palmdale, Ca. where my dad worked for Lockheed. Since I’d missed most of the 7th grade in Pacoima I had to start over in the 7th in Palmdale. It was in the 7th or 8th grade that Kurt Adams, the co-pilot of the Scorpian Jet, the only survivor of either plane, came to my house and introduced himself. Apparently, the plane he flew on 1Jan57 had taken off from Palmdale and my dad was at work that day. A few years ago I’d posted on Russ Buchanan’s website trying to find someone else who was on the field that day who could tell me what happened, I couldn’t remember. Gary Powell contacted me and filled me in. He was injured as well but remembered what I couldn’t. Thanks to Gary and Russ. Terry Brown

        Like

      • Marilyn Richards says:

        I am so happy that Terry Brown was contacted by Gary through your website! If nothing else came from your efforts you should be satisfied that you helped out a survivor! Thank you, Russ, for continuing in your efforts. I was in the 9th grade in the orchestra practicing in the auditorium when this happened. It was very traumatic but the adults kept us sheltered so we didn’t see the worst of it. My sister was in the 6th grade at Terra Bella school and was quite traumatized. It was a miracle that the plane didn’t crash into the elementary school as well as the gym field. Your Dad was one of my favorite teachers! Marilyn Richards

        Sent from my iPhone

        >

        Like

      • Russ Buchanan says:

        Hi Marilyn-

        This does make me feel pretty darned good and proud of my Pacoima pages. I remember talking to Terry a few years ago and getting a good sense of how troubling his memory lapse was to him. That my blog performed such a solid, useful service in de-troubling him will definitely put a little more strut in my step.

        Thank you, Marilyn, for the nice words –

        RB

        Like

      • Russ Buchanan says:

        Hey Terry –

        That is terrific news. I can only imagine how weird and disturbing it would be to have such a pivotal life experience erased from memory. But now, thanks to Gary — blanks filled.

        I am delighted.

        RB

        Like

  2. GEoff says:

    That sent chills up my spine. I read that some of Valens’s friends were killed when that plane touched down. Is that true? Is the beginning of her speech on the tape too, or is what you posted what you have? If that is what you have, it is miraculous that it survived this many years, and it happened to be recording that very minute. Did your dad turn off the tape recorder, or did it shut off when the power failed?

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hey GEoff –

      Thanks for the comment.

      Yeah, that is one stunning little piece of Valley history — like an audio time capsule. I remember seeing the tape — 1/4-inch on 4-inch reel — when I used to rifle through my dad’s tape collection as a nosy kid. He had been a radio announcer before becoming a teacher, so you can imagine how many tapes there were. It always caught my eye, though, because it was one of the few labeled by hand. Not to mention, the words “Pacoima Crash” intrigued the hell out of me. Oddly enough, I don’t think I actually heard the tape until I was well into my teens.

      Dad was teaching English at Pacoima and was also coaching kids on their graduation speeches. So he decided to record the speeches during this pre-graduation ceremony in front of the student body. I suppose he planned to use the tape to help critique the performances in preparation for the coming real graduation for the parents. Because what you heard is the entire recording (digitally dubbed to CD from the original),he must have started recording after the student began to speak. The recording ended when the school’s power went out. That’s why you hear the tape speeding up at the end. When power is interrupted during a recording, it naturally slows the tape speed. When played back at normal speed, it will sound “Chipmunked.” The recording I posted is an exact copy of the original, although I did EQ it to bring out the voice and reduce tape noise.

      Regarding Valens’ friends: According to a remembrance of that day by a friend of Valens, the young singer’s best friend was one of the three students killed. Here is the link to that and other fascinating, heart-rending stories from those who were there.
      http://www.joangushin.net/ThenAndNow.html

      Again, thanks for your comment and interest,

      Russ Buchanan

      Like

      • rudytrujillo says:

        Thanks for sharing Russ, wow amazing to read and hear the recording. My prayer to God is that everyone touched by this tragic event be touched by God in a special way to bring total healing.
        God bless you all and thank you for sharing your stories. John 3:16
        Sincerely,
        Rudy Trujillo
        PJH Student from the 60″

        Like

      • Russ Buchanan says:

        Hi Rudy –

        Thanks for your comment and attaboy, I appreciate it.
        Yes, many people were profoundly affected by this tragedy. I’m glad I was able to provide a forum for a few of the witnesses and survivors. I guess the real — though posthumous — thanks for this post should go to my dad, who kept the tape in such good shape for so many years.

        Thanks again –

        Russ Buchanan

        Like

  3. Marsha Abraham Langaard says:

    I was in grammar school and heard the plane as it was going down. That sound haunted me for many, many years. That was eerie as hell.

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Marsha –

      Thanks for the comment.

      Yeah, I’ll bet that was a difficult sound to shake. Did the recorded sound of the plane going down sound similar to the sound you remember hearing?

      I lived on Obeck, which was situated between Terra Bella and Kagle Canyon (north-south) and Canterbury and Beachy (east-west) so I was pretty far from the school and don’t remember hearing anything unusual. Then again, I was only five so everything probably sounded unusual. I do remember seeing shiny pieces of metal falling from the sky, though. The most vivid memory I have of that day was of my mom’s worry (her husband and daughter were at Pacoima JH that day). I had never seen her like that before and it scared me.

      Russ Buchanan

      Like

  4. Allan Hester says:

    I was one of the students who was on the gym field and ran from the falling plane. I was not hurt. The wailing sound of the plane coming down alerted us on the gym field and allowed many of us to take protective measures such as running away from the expected impact area.

    Allan Hester

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hey Allan –

      Thanks for your perspective.

      There are few things I can imagine that would be more frightening than a large, breaking-apart airplane hurtling toward me. Fortunately, you ran in the right direction.

      RB

      Like

    • Leslie says:

      That had to be horrible.,God bless all who were inpacted

      Like

    • Phillip Smith says:

      This comment is for Allen Hester. If you have a brother named Johnny then I think we were neighbors. You lived on Van Nuys Blvd. and Beachy. My family was two houses from yours. My brother Marvin and sister Delores were at the school and my sister was in the auditorium at the time of the crash. My name is Phil Smith. the Harrington’s were between us. Johnny and I were friends and I remember having dinner with your family.

      Like

  5. I WAS THERE AND WILL NEVER FORGET, I WAS IN THE AUDITORIUM. AS WE WERE RELEASED TO GO HOME THE SIGHT WILL NEVER LEAVE MY MY MIND. STUDENTS CRYING, PARENTS SEARCHING FOR THIER CHILDREN, SHERE PANIC.. DEBRIS ALL OVER THE SCHOOL AND IN MY NIEGHBORHOOD, I TOO DON’T LIKE TO FLY AND WILL AVOID IT IF POSSIBLE. RITCHIE VALENS WAS MY FRIEND, AS WERE MANY OTHERS. HE CARRIED HIS GUITAR WHERE EVER HE WENT. HE PLAYED DURING LUNCH AND WHEN EVER ANY ONE WOULD LISTEN. A VERY SAD DAY AGAIN, WHEN WE LOST HIM…… MR. BUCHANAN WAS MY ENGLISH TEACHER AND A DARN GOOD ONE TOO..

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hello, Karen –

      First, thank you for the kind words about my dad. He would have loved to hear that you remembered him as a “darn good” teacher — over 50 years later. He took his job very seriously.

      I can only imagine the horrors and the sadness you witnessed that day. Your lifetime discomfort with flying seems to be a common thread among many who were personally affected by the crash — including your chum, Richie Valens.

      Again, thanks for your comment.

      RB

      Like

  6. monk says:

    I was an eyewitness to the carnage. I lived on Bonanza St, just two blocks from the PJH. I was only 7 at the time, and I went to Terra Bella Elementary, next door. The two schools shared a common chain link fence about 10 feet high. On that particular day, I was home with a cold. The whole house shook from a sudden and violent explosion. My mother had heard the whine of the falling plane and ran out screaming, “Oh, my god, oh my god, I think a plane just crashed!” We looked out the front window and saw a mushroom cloud of thick black smoke rising over the schools. Nuts and bolts and debris began to rain down on roof, but nothing that was large enough to cause any damage. For some god-forsaken reason, my mother scooped me and a my baby brother up, and we headed for the sight of the explosion. Hundreds of mothers in the neighborhood were also running toward the school, all of them screaming as we all descended on the horrible sight. We entered the playground through the faculty parking lot and beheld a twisted, scorched and oil-soaked landscape. Wreckage was still on fire, strewn everywhere, having slammed into fences, backstops, basketball hoops, and, of course, children, who lay everywhere, burned and bleeding from gashes too grisly to comprehend. One teacher held a boy’s intestines from spilling out, as the boy screamed in agony, “I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die.” Teachers were everywhere, trying to comfort the injured. Off to one side, a large plane engine lay embedded 15 ft down in the Earth, smoldering with an acrid fume. Over by a demolished backstop, a burned and mangled crewmember was still strapped to a chair, his death stare looking out at the carnage that was all around. There was a huge part of the plane lying in the small church parking lot that bordered the east side, To the west, several of the elementary bungalows that skirted the playing field, mine included, were pocked with gaping holes where debris had torn through the fence and into the rooms.. A boy, his hair covered in hot oil, walked blindly along the fence. By fortune, all of those classrooms’ students were assembled on the other side of the school; had the children been there, the death toll would have been much higher. The police and ambulances finally arrived in droves, driving on sidewalks and front lawns to reach the school because the roads were clogged with frantic parents. I still remember one woman, horrified nearly senseless, walking through the wreckage screaming “My baby, my baby, where is my baby?” The police took charge and emptied the playground of mothers and gawkers. A perimeter was established, and we all stood outside the barriers, for several hours, watching ambulances and police and news trucks come and go. Women and men wept openly and copiously.

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Monk –

      Man, those would be difficult images to shake as a kid — or as an adult, for that matter.
      Yours is one of the most illuminating and gut-wrenching accounts of the Pacoima crash I’ve yet read. Were you old enough to grasp the enormity of what had happened? Or did the magnitude of what you had witnessed come later? I assume you went to Pacoima after Terra Bella. If so, did you learn the identity of the teacher aiding the injured student? Also, why did your mom rush the two of you toward the disaster?

      Again, thank you very much for your detailed glimpse into one of the San Fernando Valley’s saddest days.

      RB

      Like

  7. Rosemary says:

    wow… that sent chills…. as well as monk’s first hand account. How horrible was that!

    Glad your dad and sister were not part of the carnage. I checked google maps and found that my cousin lived about 17 miles away from the crash. I sent him an email link to your site to see if he remember it.

    Hope things are going well for you these days.

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Good to hear from you, Rosemary.

      Yeah, the memories I have of that day are hazy — I was only five. But that day seems indelibly etched into the brains of those who were there, including my sister and father. Small wonder, it sounds like it was a mini-Armageddon. I remember dad once said (and I mean only once — he rarely talked about that day) something about having to either identify or tend to (I can’t remember which) a boy who had sustained a horrible head injury. I forgot to mention in the story that the adjacent church was my family’s church. A large part of the plane came through the roof of a little room just off the sanctuary (that I remember vividly). One more way the Buchanan family was connected to that grisly day.

      See ya on the Interweb,

      RB

      Like

  8. Phyllis Hunter Randall says:

    Sometimes it takes time to put two and two together. April 21 I went to my 50th San Fernando Class reunion. I had found a picture of Pam B. and 3 friends at HER Pacoima Jr High grad day, June of 1959 and brought it to the reunion with me. I had forgotten that John Buchanan was her father. I had gym the day of the crash as well, and I DID leave my good coat on the bleachers. Howerver, I did not ask permission to go out and get it, I just ran out, grabbed it and was not in the gym side door but a few seconds when the plane crashed. I turned around to see all the debri in the air. The grad speaker on the tape, Linda Latrelle is a good friend of my sisterinlalw. We attended the 50 yr memorial and tree planting at the school Jan. 31, 2007. Unfortunately it was not well publicized and many more would have like to attend. Linda made another speech that day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Phyllis –
      Thanks for your comment.
      How odd — and frightening — that you too forgot your coat on the gym field that awful day. The fates were definitely with you and Pam.

      Coincidentally enough, my sister told me on the phone yesterday that she attended the San Fer reunion with her chum, Carol Crockett (maiden name). I couldn’t tell from your message if you saw her there or not. I’m sure she would have loved to see you and the photo.

      Russ Buchanan

      Like

      • Pam Buchanan Bunce says:

        Hi Russ,

        The memories of that awful day still haunt me. I have been avoiding hearing the tape until today. When we were finally allowed to leave the P.E. locker rooms, I started searching for our dad. I had no idea where he was and if he was ok. After what seemed like hours, we found each other. What a relief!

        Another part of the story is that Russ and our mom had been at the Pacoima Congregational Church, just next door to PJH, earlier that morning. I was also worried about them. A part of the plane actually did land in the middle of the church, but no one was hurt.

        I had no idea Phyllis had gone out on the field to retrieve her jacket. Thank God she made it back safely. Yes, Russ, Phyllis and I did see each other at the reunion. I recognized her right away. Just one more comment, January 31, 1957 was my thirteen birthday; one I will never forget.

        p.s. I avoid flying too.

        Like

      • Russ Buchanan says:

        Hey Sister Mine –

        Y’know, at the house we never talked much about the crash. If dad said more than ten words about it I’d be surprised. You and mom said even less. When I was writing and researching this story, I thought about how tough that day must have been for mom. Shirley told me that mom knew about the crash (Shirley forgot that mom knew very well about the crash, being next door at the church and all) but did not know how you and dad were for quite some time. I didn’t know you were going through a similar hell worrying about dad. Man, what a day!

        RB

        Like

      • Phyllis Hunter Randall says:

        Yes I saw Pam and Carol. Pam and I have exchanged condensed life stories via email as we didn’t talk much that night. She gave me Carol’s email as she lives in Simi as does my sister and she seemed like someone I would like to get to know better. 55 years later and we who were there are drawn back to the memory.

        Like

    • Hello Phyllis, I was in the auditorium getting ready to graduate.LInda Lutrell was a very good friend of mine.I will never forget that day and just now listened to the recording.I was shocked at my reaction to it….I went to grade school and Jr. High with Linda and wouod love to connect with her again,its been years…..My name then was Lana Brosamle.Linda was in our little group of girls.Pat Cox, Dorothy Alexander, Marlene Sherman. If possible,could you give her my email??
      halesplace@frontier.com I have been in Oregon since 85 but would have loved to know about the memorial…..I think Linda and the rest of us were in a daze the day we graduated.She was really pestered by reportors..It was a horrible day and one I will never forget.
      Lana(Brosamle) Hale

      Like

  9. D. Miller says:

    I was nine years old and a student at Terra Bella elementary school that day. My classroom was located adjacent to the fence that separated the two schools. The class had just started to file out for recess when the whine of the plane cought our attention. I looked up and to this day could swear that some one in the nose of that spinning plane was waving their arms. The impact was deafening, followed by fire and thick smoke. I remember looking up and the sky being filled with what appeared to be confetti, debree from the crash. Our teacher pushed us back into the safety of the classroom, where we stood at the windows for hours watching the emergecy crews working. I was traumatized for years, fearful of every jet flying overhead, I am still uncomfortable flying. I may be mistaken, but didn’t part of the problem in handeling this tragedy come from the lack of emergency medical facilities in the immediate area?

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi D. Miller –

      It seems just about everybody who witnessed the crash, including you and my sister, developed a lifelong discomfort with flying. Small wonder. The more people who comment on this story, the more I understand how traumatic this awful event was for the kids who witnessed it.

      I too remember seeing debris in the sky. But strangely, that is all I remember. I may have only been five, but you’d think I would remember the sound of the explosion or the sirens, considering that my mom and I were at the church adjacent to the school when the DC-7 came down. At the very least, it seems I would have remembered how shook up my mother was — her husband (teacher) and daughter (student) were at Pacoima JHS that day. Who knows, I may have completely repressed those memories.

      I don’t know if there were problems with the medical response, but I do know that valley residents demanded that test flights cease over the Valley — and they did.

      Thanks for your perspective and comment,

      RB

      Like

      • Garth Rodriguez says:

        Hi D.Miller – Do you remember you room number? – I too was adjacent to the junior HS. We saw the plane actually come down and crash in the gym field.A huge billowing cloud of Black smoke and orange fire Lit up inside of our classroom. I remember looking back at our teacher and seeing the light of the glowing explosion of flames on her face as she screamed in helpless terror. She and one of the girls in our classroom were clutched together. I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. As I looked out the window, almost instantly people came from nowhere. They were frantically climbing over the fence to get into the gym field to help. I’ll never forget seeing one of the students hopping away to safety on one leg. Needless to say, I always ask GOD to please be with me and my family whenever we fly.

        Like

      • Russ Buchanan says:

        Thanks for your comment, Garth.

        I can only imagine the terror and bewilderment you and your classmates must have experienced in those moments. Those sights would have been tough enough for any adult to handle, let alone elementary-aged kids.

        On a lighter note — if you are the Garth Rodriguez I think you are, you were the lead singer in one my very first bands. Ah, the Internet! I was 12 and I played guitar. Actually, “played” might be overstating it somewhat. I owned a guitar, at any rate. I’ll shoot you an email.

        Russ (Rusty) Buchanan

        Like

  10. Bruce Ford says:

    I don’t know what made look this up now, but I’m glad I did. I also was a student at Terra Bella Elementary School and witnessed the crash from my school room. Yes, my classroom was one row back from the fence dividing the two schools. I heard the screaming of the plane as it came in, and when I ran to window to see what it was, there was a loud explosion and a huge fireball that seemed to go 100 plus feet into the air. As we ran outside I could see the carnage from the crash, some bodies and pieces of plane laying everywhere. We lived only a few blocks from the school and my mother had been out hanging laundry. She saw the plane go down, and needless to say, was at the school in only a few minutes. I was only seven years old when this crash happened, and it has stuck with me all of my life. Some events just seem to get burned into your memory.

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hey Bruce –

      Thanks for your input.

      Yes, it is striking how deeply and indelibly the images of the crash are embedded in the witness’ brains. Not to mention, the lifelong fear of flying that many witnesses have to this day.

      It’s strange, you were only two years older than I, but remember much more. According to my sister, my mother and I were at the church next to the school when the plane exploded and sent an engine through the roof of the church. You’d think I would have remembered that little detail — but no, the slate is clean. All I remember is the confetti-like pieces of metal floating down from the sky and later, when we returned to the house, my mom’s agitated state (my sister and dad were at the school).

      Thanks again for commenting,

      RB

      Like

  11. Debbie Ambroff says:

    Hi Russ

    I was chatting with a man I met in the waiting room at Holy Cross Surgery Center today. We were both waiting for our Dad’s to have cataract surgery. We learned that we both grew up in the Valley. We both remembered where we were when the plane crashed in Pacoima Jr High. He was in Kindergarden at the school next door to Pacoima Jr High. I was at my friend Patti’s house, playing with her Mom’s box of buttons on the living room floor. I remember the floor jumped. I googled the crash to see when it occurred and was brought to your article. I realized I was only 3 years old. I can remember it like yesterday.

    I remember you as “Rusty”, a classmate of my late brother Steven. I went on to read many of your wonderfully insightful articles.

    Thank you,
    Debbie Ambroff

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Debbie –

      Wonderful to hear from you.

      I remember you; you were Steve’s little, very cute sister who would careen around the house while your brother, me and the rest of the gang did what ever the hell we used to do back then. I think we played poker a lot. Of course, none of us knew how to play so our poker sessions were quite long and involved. We would inevitably degenerate into “everything’s wild,” which signaled the end was near.

      Yeah, the Pacoima crash touched so many people. I’ve been amazed at the responses to this post and how many commenters who saw or heard the plane come down — but were not directly harmed by the crash — were nonetheless deeply affected, in one way or other, for their entire lives.

      Thank you so much for commenting and for the nice words about the rest of the blog. [“blog” — I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that word. It sounds like it should be the name of an evil extraterrestrial or something]

      RB

      Like

  12. susan aitchison says:

    I went to Pacoima Jr. High in the mid-70’s and remember some of my neighbors in Arleta speaking about it. Such a horrible thing to happen. My kids were watching La Bamba with me and I told them what had happened and my youngest son James (who’s very sensitive cried about it). God bless all of those who had family that were involved. And that Richie Valens died in a plane crash is so ironic and disturbing that it still gives me chills. I miss that school so much. It was kind of rough being one of the few white girls going there, but the cholas were cool to me (even on “patty day”) because I grew up with many chicanos who “protected” me. My mom moved me to the other end of the valley because of the violence. Sherman Oaks proved to be worse – mostly rich bitch snobs. Arleta/Pacoima will ALWAYS be my home. Can’t wait to visit from Michigan in a few weeks and I can’t wait to show my kids my real home.

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Susan –

      I think this makes you my homey, Susan. Except I went to Pacas (“Pacoima” for those Sherman Oaks folks) in the mid-60s. Yeah, I liked Pacoima too — a true melting pot, and we all got along pretty darned well, cholas, cholos and paddies, alike. I lived on Obeck Ave (off Kagel, between Beachy and Canterbury) in what was originally called Pacoima, but later became Arleta for no apparent reason. I then went to San Fernando High until, in a fit of good judgment, they kicked me out. Poly High was my next stop, where I managed to stay until graduation. I still drive by the old neighborhood on my way to golf at Hansen Dam — it still looks nice (the many new wrought iron fences around many front yards notwithstanding).

      I was only five when the plane came down and remember very little of that day, despite the fact that my big sister and my dad were on campus when it happened. Needless to say, it was one heck of a day for mom.

      My dad had Richie Valens in one of his classes and remembered him fondly. Dad used to tell me that he thought Valens(uela) was very talented and was always trying to get him to leave the band he performed with and go solo. I was never sure if that was true or if it was just dad’s way of getting me to quit the band I was in at the time. Probably both.

      I hope your visit back to the “homeland” proves to be a great time. And thank you very much for your take on that sad day.

      RB

      Like

  13. Kathy Guthrie says:

    I just found this site. My husband was there that day and suffered burns and shrapnal (sp?) injuries. He ran as fast as he could from the “sound” he said. He left the school yard in shock and a neighbor lady found him walking home and picked him up. He told me that he’s not sure he wants to listen to the tape, but I’ll bet he will. He still has bad dreams and I believe he was profoundly affected in ways we may never know. He told me Douglas Aircraft offered his folks some token settlement and it’s too bad they didn’t know better than to sign off. Wouldn’t happen in this day and age. Thanks for the post/tape.

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Kathy –

      At first, I was hesitant to post the recording because of its potential for reawakening the horror in people like your husband. I was afraid that survivors who had been trying their whole lives to get passed that day would be plunged right back in it by hearing the sounds again. On the other hand, I hoped it might serve as a catharsis — you know, lose the fear by confronting it. So far, the responses suggest that listening to the tape and commenting about it has been helpful to many, if only because the post offers a forum where they can get their feelings about that day off their chests.

      If your husband decides to listen to it, I hope it helps.

      RB

      Like

  14. Gerald Brann says:

    My cousin, Ronnie, died on the playground that day. One of three students. His sister and the rest of the Boyd/Brann family remember him with love. Thank you for posting this, it has been shared with the rest of our family.

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Gerald –

      Coming from a member of Ronnie’s family, your comment is especially welcome.

      My sister, who was a friend of Evan Elsner’s, told me today that our parents, John and Eleanor Buchanan, attended Ronnie’s memorial service.

      Thank you very much for commenting and sharing the post with your family,

      Russ Buchanan

      Like

  15. Leonard Robert Schmidt says:

    I was there and a classmate of your sister Pam. I was in Drafting class next to the gymnasium and was knocked off my stool by the crash. Outside, we could see the carnage.

    I came to this site preparing for my 50 year Polytechnic High School class reunion September 14 & 15 in Ventura, CA. I read the reports and listened to your Dad’s tape. My physiological reaction as I sit here now is unpleasant … which I hope and pray is an emotional catharsis.

    Richard Berger was badly burned, but on our graduation day played piano beautifully, telling me his learning to play was therapeutic. Because we were children, and in an age when you simply go on with life, those I know of have done just that. Some buried stuff, as I’ve just learned, but getting that up and out is, I think, a good thing.

    I don’t recall your Dad, but may well have had him as a teacher.

    Thank you for your posting. I am grateful.

    Leonard R. Schmidt

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hello Leonard –

      Thanks for writing.

      I, too, hope that the unpleasantness you felt was an indication of catharsis. For the most part, it seems the recording and the comments from witnesses/survivors have had a beneficial effect on those touched by that day. I remember where the drafting area was situated at Pacoima — you and your classmates were darned close to the field. Your account is the first I’d heard about Berger and his music therapy pulling him through — ah, the power of music.

      From one Poly high alum to another, I really appreciate the thanks at your sign-off; I am now more convinced that posting this story/recording was a good thing to do.

      RB

      Like

  16. Bill Firestone says:

    Russ, thanks for the time and effort to post and manage this thread.
    I was on the field when the DC7 came down. When the plane hit I was running. The impact tossed me through the air and I landed in a hot smoking oil slick. My physical injuries were minor, my clothes and jacket kept me from getting burned by the hot oil. I remember, like so many others that have written, the pieces of metal, bolts and whatever the pieces are of an exploded plane falling all around. The heat from the 100 foot tall flames to my right were hotter than the oil I was laying in. I’m glad I was down, because there was an engine embedded in the asphalt 25 feet away in the same direction I was running. I was dripping, head to toe, from the oil and now walking with a limp rather than running. I still hear the sound of the crash, and the moments after. I see the screaming kid writhing in pain with his intestines protruding. (BTW, I believe the teacher tending to the kid, just a few moments later was Coach Vardanien). I don’t know if the kids there ever heal completely. I can talk about the experience, but right now I’m shaking inside.
    Thanks, I’m ok.

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hey Bill –

      Thanks for commenting and for the attaboy.

      Yours is one of the more terrifying accounts of that day. How do you know you’re having a horrible experience? When you’re thankful that you were blown into a pool of hot airplane oil rather than being allowed to continue on your chosen path. I’m fairly sure that a few commenters here were remembering you when they wrote about seeing a kid drenched in smoking oil walking/hobbling past them as they ran.

      I’m so glad you were able to remember the coach’s name — Coach Vardanien. I think there was a lot of heroism on that day, but few names have been mentioned. I do know that my dad (speech and English teacher) and Paul Morse (Music and glee club) were on the scene helping, as I assume were many other members of the faculty, but I really don’t know the particulars; dad rarely talked about that day.

      Again, Bill, thanks so much for your input.

      RB

      Like

  17. Randal Luse says:

    I was amazed to run across your recording of the sounds of that tragic day. I was in the 8th grade at Sun Valley Junior High and I was having lunch with 3 of my buddies. I remember it as a warm day,bright sunny day,no clouds and you could see forever. One of the guys started pointing to the sky to the northwest and we saw the DC7 plummeting to earth. When we caught sight of the aircraft it appeared that it’s decent was nearly vertical. As soon as it disappeared on the horizon a large black plume of smoke appeared. And then one of the guys pointed to the northeast and we caught sight of the F89 going down at probably a 45 degree angle and appeared to crash into the foothills(I think I heard later that it ended up in the La Tuna Canyon area). And then someone pointed high in the sky and we saw a parachute (which turned out to be the surviving crewman of the F89) and watched it descend and it appeared to land not too far from our school. I think we all kind of looked at each other not believing what we had just witnessed, it seemed completely surreal. Of course we didn’t know what all had taken place until after we got home from school as communication in those days was nothing like today. One of the guys (last name Mitchell)was on the Poly High football team I was on and was one of the kids injured on the PJH field that day. Also just recently read from another site that indeed coach Vardanien was there to help the wounded and later would be my PE teacher at Poly and a track coach at Poly. Yes, like so many others this event is seared into my mind even though I witnessed it from 4 miles away and wasn’t exposed to the terror and carnage that so many others were.

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hey Randal –

      Your comment is the first “wide-angle” account written here.

      With all the illuminating and often soul-bearing comments from those who witnessed/survived the crash terrifyingly close, it’s easy to forget that there were many more people in the surrounding areas who saw the tragedy unfold in a completely different way. Certainly less frightening, but just as capable of creating lasting, disturbing impressions — the sight of two aircraft plummeting to their doom and the human cost implied, would be enough to sear into anyone’s brain.

      Sadly, while researching the crash I found that Coach Vardanian died in June 1964 (Heroes and Teachers — Possemato, et al., Google Books) — a mere seven years after his heroism at age 34. I haven’t yet been able to find out the cause of Coach Vardanian’s untimely death.

      From one Poly High alum to another: Thanks for your perspective on that day,

      RB

      Like

    • Ted Sudtell says:

      I was at school in La Crescenta doing sit up’s out in our school field when we all saw smoke and the planes falling right after impact.
      The first kid to see it saw the impact flash. At first it looked like one plane and it’s landing gear then as they got closer we could see it was two planes, then we saw the parachute. It seemed to take a long time to come down. I guess 20,000 + feet. Then we saw the smoke from impact. Like Randal said, I did not know where it crashed till I got home. I was 14 and will never forget it.

      Like

  18. Lotus Louise Mahon says:

    I was there too. I was 5 years old. We lived near by on Gain Street and I went to Kindergarten at Beachy Avenue School. I was playing outside. I didn’t look up, but I remember the horrible loud sound, like nothing natural, and then the crash and the earth shook. I ran inside my house and asked my mother what happened. She said she didn’t know but it must have been something really horrible. We got in the car and drove to the Pacoima Junior High. I thought it was actually a high school and it was a football field, but that was the perspective of a 5 year old. I remember seeing the field with all the plane wreckage, fire and smoke, and people around the perimeter. I remember seeing the hole in the field. Someone told me at the time that the pilot never ejected, but stayed in the plane and flew in to the field on purpose to avoid nearby houses. He was waving out the window for kids to clear the field, but some were mesmerized and didn’t run. The pilot died in the crash. I don’t know if this is accurate, but it was what I was told at the time. Not long after that we moved to Northern California. I never forgot it, it’s not the sort of thing you forget. Years later when the movie ‘La Bamba’ came out in 1987, my mother called me and said I had to go see it. She said the plane crash and the neighborhood were in the movie. Well she was right. It wasn’t exactly the way I remembered it, but it was there. I was glad to hear this recording of the sound. I always remembered it in my mind, but this was the first time I heard it again…amazing, it’s just the way I remembered. I think for me it was validating. Even though this crash was well documented, it just seemed to fade away and no one spoke about it, but in my mind it was big. If I ever brought it up or talked about it, people in Northern California didn’t know anything about it and thought I was being overly dramatic, so I just didn’t talk about it. Thank you for posting this.

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Lotus Louise –

      All four crew members of the DC-7 died in the crash, as did the pilot of the F-89. The only crew member of either plane to survive was Curtis Adams, radarman of the military fighter jet. Adams’ injuries were not critical and he was able to eject.

      As you can see from the comments here, you are not alone. Many people consider the Pacoima crash to be an important event in their lives. For some, a life-changer.

      From a fellow Beachy-ite, thanks for commenting
      (we might even have been in the same kindergarten class — Mrs. Aldridge was the teacher’s name. How on earth did I just remember that… I can’t even remember where I put the keys an hour ago?) –

      RB

      Like

  19. Randal Luse says:

    I want to thank you Russ for pointing me to the info on Mr. Vardanian. After reading the information I guess I was amazed at the life experiences especially involving the military that he had already accumulated when I knew him. A fine man whose life seemed way too short. Thanks again.

    Like

  20. Debbie Simons Nodelman says:

    I can’t believe I came across this posting. I know it’s a little late to join the conversation but I felt compelled to share my memories of this horrific event. I had just turned five on the 16th of January and the plane flew right over me, raining down some sort of metallic confetti. At the time I remember thinking it was shredded paper. I heard the plane’s roar as it went directly over my head, just above the trees. IIt was making a screaming noise and then I heard a crash. I had been on my brand new Schwinn bicycle, riding on the sidewalk on Stanford Avenue across the street from my house on Sunburst Avenue. My mom came running out of the house, screaming for me to come home. Terrified, I couldn’t even budge. My Mom rushed across the street to get me, a little irritated with me it seemed. She scooped me up and put me in the backseat of the car. We raced toward Terra Bella Elementary School where my brother, Jimmy, was a first or second grader. We couldn’t get any further than the chain link fence surrounding the school. It seemed as if hundreds of mothers and their little children gathered at the fence line, frantic and crying. The elementary school was next to Pacoima Junior HIgh. It was chaos on the field of the junior high school. We didn’t know if the plane parts had landed in the elementary school classrooms. It was so scary. I’ll never forget the confusion, fear, and terror I felt. All of us at the fence line knew children were hurt and killed. As it turned out, my brother’s class was safe. It was so long ago and still a vibrant memory. My brother was terrified of flying his entire life.

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Debbie –

      Thanks for your contribution to the conversation. By the way, I have a feeling that this discussion will be going on until we are both shuffling down the streets of Leisure World, so your comment is by no means “late.”

      It sounds like you saw what I saw — the falling “metallic confetti” — which is just about all I remember from that day (I was the same age as you). I think you lived near me — we were on Obeck Ave, between Kagel Cyn. and Garber, so our vantage points were probably quite similar.

      Your brother, with his lifelong fear of flying, is not alone. It seems like the majority of people who witnessed the crash and/or its aftermath developed the same fear. My sister, who had left the athletic field moments before impact, is definitely a white-knuckler.

      Your assessment of the situation at the school directly after the crash is chilling and sad. A lot of human misery occurred on that day. But, there was also a lot of humanity and caring for others on that day, as well.

      Thanks again for writing,

      RB

      Like

  21. Chip says:

    Hello Russ,

    Thank you for your posting the audio tape. I’ve always wondered for the past 55 years if there was anyone else here who remembered that day. I was ten years old and just made it out to the playing field of Burton Street School, to hear a loud explosion in the sky. Looking up with all my friends, we saw a huge black cloud of smoke and the planes falling to earth.

    Later that afternoon when my father came home, we drove to the seen. I’ll never forget what I saw.

    Thanks again Russ,

    Chip Schell

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Thanks for commenting, Chip.

      Yes, not only do people remember that day, but it seems to be etched in the memory of many. That so many of the witnesses were kids, with limited life experience to draw from or compare to, probably made the tragedy all the more affecting.

      RB

      Like

  22. Bob Bliven says:

    Hi Russ,

    Thanks for the recording.

    I remember that day too. I was in a special class at Montague Street School when it happened. It was a closed room with only transom windows. I remember hearing a loud screaming sound. It must have been the DC7 falling to earth. I heard no crash and saw no smoke. Later I returned to my regular class and started hearing rumors which I did not believe. still later my father showed up to take me home from school in the middle of the afternoon and told me what had happened. My brother, Richard Bliven, was in the school yard when the plane crashed. He was lucky and only got a minor elbow injury. His friend, Richard Berger, was not as lucky and got severe burns over much of his back and legs. We used to visit him at the hospital while he was recovering and suffering through painful skin grafts.

    I have seen “La Bamba” a few times and it’s reference to this crash always makes me think about my roots again. Last night I saw it again and it and a recent visit to San Fernando got me looking at pictures of the Valley in the 50s.

    Bob Bliven

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hey Bob,

      Thanks for your perspective on that day. Coincidentally enough, your brother’s chum, Richard Berger, wrote in to this blog two days after you did. I’m going through new comments now and I should have his up in a few minutes. Yeah, I know what you mean about roots. Even though the comments here concern a tragic day in the old neighborhood, reading them reminds me of my old stomping grounds and what a terrific place it was to spend my first 17 years.

      Thanks again for writing,

      RB

      Like

  23. I am 73 yrs old now and live in Tulsa,Okla. I was a Junior at Glendale High when this happened. The news of the crash spread like wild fire through the school even though we were miles away. I remember watching the news that evening, and one of the Mother’s of one of the boy’s killed was crying and said “I didn’t even kiss him goodbye this morning” This interview was on TV. I was sixteen then and even though miles away and knowing no one envolved, yet I was very traumitized by such a horror. So, it is not hard to understand why you cling to each other even though it was many years ago. To me, the most nightmarish aspect was the screaming sound the plane made as it fell. .I have watched many videos of ww2 bombers returning home after having suffered incredible damage to both wings and tail..yet they could still fly it . The DC7 had the outer wing clipped off….out further than the outboard engine. I suspect hydraulic lines were severed causing loss of control to flaps and the like. What caused the plane to break apart must have been due to extreme speed going down and turning in all directions. The explosion just before impact must have been from fuel tank rupture coupled with engines still running (I assume). Here it is in 2012 and we still talk about it. I don’t think it is necessary to know why.

    Like

  24. Rick Carlson says:

    Hi Russ,

    The recording is amazing….

    I was in the 4th grade at Montague that day. It was a warm day and our teacher had both doors to the classroom open. I sat in the rear of the room closest to the back door. There was a small courtyard between our building and the building next to us.

    We heard a loud roaring sound and all of us turned toward the windows facing the courtyard. I looked across to the other building and saw a teacher named Mr. Snyder. There was a large flash and suddenly we heard the blast. I watched Mr. Snyder cover his face when the flash occurred and turn away when the blast came.

    Our teacher ordered us under the tables thinking it was a nuclear attack. Everyone dove under their desks and covered their heads….I did not. I ran outside into the courtyard to see what happened.

    I looked up into the sky towards Pacoima Jr. High. What I saw I’ll never forget. The sky that direction was filled with an expanding ball of metal and debris. I only got to watch it for a few seconds. I was totally mesmerized by it. Suddenly, Mr. Snyder saw me and literally picked me up by the scruff of my neck and the seat of my pants and threw me back into my room and dove in behind me!

    I, like all of us that were there that day, will never forget it. Thank you for posting the recording.

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hey Rick –

      Thanks for your terrific account of that day — moment, really.

      You reminded me that my sister, who happened to be at the P.E. office next to the gym field when the plane went down, thought it was a nuclear attack, as well. In fact, I’d be surprised if lots of kids and teachers on and near the campus didn’t believe the same thing initially. In 1957, we were at the height of our nuclear war prep, with drop-and-cover drills regularly held for students. Hell, even in the mid-60s I remember drilling at Beachy Elementary (near PJHS) — sometimes we would even drop-and-cover along with the air-raid sirens the last Friday of every month (I guess the teachers thought the sirens brought a little realism production value to the whole thing). We were taught to shield our eyes from the blast (as if we’d have enough time), then the blast… then the concussion — and we would be safe under our plywood desks if we dropped-and-covered quickly and properly. Yep.

      You were certainly an adventurous and inquisitive fourth-grader, weren’t you. No hiding under the desk for you; you wanted to know what was going on. I’m picturing Mr. Snyder hurling you back inside the classroom — man, what a day!

      Thanks again for writing,

      RB

      Like

    • Ned DiMaggio says:

      I was in the class with Mr. Snyder are you on facebook contact me…

      Like

  25. Mark Masek says:

    Mr. Buchanan,

    Thanks for your fascinating website, and for the chilling and haunting audio of the plane crash at Pacoima Junior High School. I cannot imagine what a horrifying experience that must’ve been for anyone who was near the school at the time, and thank you for giving the people who were there a chance to discuss their memories, and perhaps find a way to deal with what must certainly be terrible memories of that day.

    My name is Mark Masek, and I’m the author of “Hollywood Remains to Be Seen: A Guide to the Movie Stars’ Final Homes,” a guidebook to find the final resting places of hundreds of Hollywood celebrities. Since the book was published, I started a website with a section called “The Stories Behind the Stones.” The intention of that section is to tell the stories of people who are buried in cemeteries around Los Angeles. Some of the people profiled are famous, but most are not. But every life is an interesting story that deserves to be told and remembered.

    Recently, I added the story of the Pacoima Junior High School plane crash, and profiled the eight people who were killed, using newspaper archives and websites like yours to tell their stories. I also included a link to your website.

    Since you obviously have a much more personal connection to the story and the events of that day, I’d like to know what you think of my version, and if you or anyone else involved has any comments, corrections or suggestions.

    You can find the story at: http://www.cemeteryguide.com/gotw-pacoima.html

    Thank you,

    Mark Masek

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hello Mark –

      Well done, Mr. Masek. I found your Pacoima crash page very informative and well written. From the take-offs of the doomed airplanes, through to the profiles of each victim, you told the story of that tragic day dramatically, accurately and compassionately.

      I only had time to check out the Pacoima section of your site just now, but I find the premise of CemeteryGuide.com – “Stories Behind the Stones” fascinating. I’ll be back soon.

      If you don’t mind, I’d like to include a link to your site on my Pacoima page.

      Again, terrific work,

      Russ Buchanan

      Like

    • phyllisrandall@yahoo.com says:

      There is a link at the bottom to An extensive article and photos about the plane crash. Thought you might be interested. It was more information than I had ever heard about.

      Sent from my iPad

      Like

  26. Volney Hyde says:

    My pastor, Apostle William T. Broadous, of Calvary Baptist Church of Pacoima had his pelvis crushed by falling debris that day and has since undergone several major surgeries. But he NEVER complains or asks “why me?”…This recording is riveting. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Thanks for writing, Volney –

      I remember your pastor’s father, Rev. Hillery Broadous. Though I never knew him personally, I frequently heard the elder Broadous’ name mentioned in my house and at our church, Pacoima Congregational. I believe there was a connection between the two houses of worship during the 60s’ civil rights struggle. I didn’t know his son had been injured in the crash but I am glad to hear he is carrying on the family mission.

      Russ Buchanan

      Like

  27. mark gottlieb says:

    Russ… I’ve read this from your website and only now listened to the recording…… My God…..
    I was at Montegue Elementary School right across from our house…. and when my mom heard about the crash.. and how close it was she left work and came home…..she had a lot of neighborhood friends who’s kids were there.
    I remember how frightened she was about it.
    And now to again read the article and hear the recording how remarkably intact some memories can remain.
    Love,
    Mark

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hello, my erstwhile chum, whom I miss,

      Yeah, putting up this Pacoima crash page has proved to be an amazing experience. The comments here show how deeply etched that day is in so many people’s memories. I guess the fact that they were kids when it happened made it stick in ways that will probably never be fully understood. All things considered, I think the recording’s stark — almost brutal — reminding of the tragedy has been cathartic for many of these folks. At least, I hope so.

      It was so cold here recently, it made me think of the real, world-class cold I felt when we did your ballet in, what was it, 2008? I would narrate, go have a smoke and freeze my butt off, go back inside the theater, narrate, go have a smoke, freeze my butt off. Ah, the good old days.

      I hope you are composing these days. I still watch “El Encuentro” now and then — there is a lot of beauty in that work.

      Rusty

      Like

  28. Bill says:

    I was 18 years old when this crash took place. I didn’t live close to the event but was scheduled to fly on a United DC7 on Feb. 2nd to boot camp on the East coast. I had never flown on anything so this was to be my first flight. This crash and another (DC7 and Connie midair over the Grand Canyon July 1956) put the fear of flying into me. Since then I became a military pilot and have a greater understanding of flight along with the risks associated with flying. I have accrued over 2500 hours of flight and still an active civilian pilot. Thanks for this historic artifact.

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hey Bill –

      What an interesting turn of events. Yeah, I do believe I would have been a wee bit nervous about flying in a type of plane that seems to keep crashing into other planes.

      However, it appears you overcame your fear of flying IN A BIG WAY. I guess you figured the best way to keep those things airborne was to pilot them yourself.

      Well done, Bill

      RB

      Like

  29. I cannot believe I came across this recording. I listened to it on the radio after coming home from school that day and it scared the living daylights out of me. I was sitting in class (2nd grade next to the window (Horace Mann Elementary, Burbank) I yelled to my teacher LOOK! as I watched the plane falling from the sky finally losing sight as it fell behind the mountain. We were all taken out as if a fire drill and watched a parachute decending. I cannot tell you how the events of that day and this recording have stayed with me all these days. God bless the lost souls, the injured and their families. This 64 year old 2nd grader will never forget. God Bless you all. Mark Littleton

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Mark,

      Your account is the first I’ve heard of the tape being played on the radio, though it makes perfect sense. Back then, my dad moonlighted as a news broadcaster at KGIL and, I believe, one of the radio network affiliates. He probably took the reel of tape directly from Pacoima to his gig at the station that day for broadcast.

      An interesting bit of info regarding the parachuting radioman from the fighter jet: the heat in his cockpit was so intense that sparks ignited a few spots on his parachute. He recalled gazing up at his chute on the way down and seeing widening circles of blue sky.

      Thank you for your comment, Mark,

      Russ Buchanan

      Like

  30. Terry Brown says:

    My name is Terry Brown. I was injured in the plane crash and would like to talk with others who remember what happened….I don’t.

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Terry –

      You’ve come to the right place. It seems many of the commenters here have vivid recollections of that day. If anyone wants to talk to you about the crash, they can contact me and I’d be happy to pass along your email address to them after checking with you. Also, you might be interested in the “Then and Now” site about the crash. Many Pacoima JH alums have commented there. http://angiejim.homestead.com/thenandnow.html

      RB

      Like

  31. Terry Brown says:

    I wrote a comment on 9March when my son told me about Russ Buchanan’s website. After that I spent time reading some of the other comments and read what Richard Berger had posted. I looked at the newspaper page showing the pictures of those of us who were injured and saw mine and his. When I connected Richard’s name with the picture I remember him. And, other than the pictures my parents had of me, I’ve not seen one of me until I saw the one on the page of the Pacoima Post. Richard noted he was in the Valley Hospital and, as I recall, I was too. The first time I regained consciousness I was in a room with Lloyd Hopkins. Then I don’t remember anything until I woke up again and the first person I was was Coach DeGroot at the foot of my bed. Since I was in and out of consciousness I don’t have memories that connect until Ray Lafinier (as I recall we called him Skip) were racing up and down the halls in wheelchairs. Maybe Richard was with us. I don’t have any memories of the actual crash but two people said they saw me running so I know I was awake for part of it. First, when I was in the room with Lloyd Hopkins he told me we were running to get behind the handball wall. And, second, several years later at a reunion, Richard Williams told me he saw me get hit in the head. Richard Berger wrote that he was in the hospital for 7 weeks, I think I was there longer. And when I got out my parents had moved us to Palmdale. Interestingly enough, my dad worked as a jet mechanic at the Air Force base where the Scorpian Jet flew out of. After we’d been there for a while a man named Kurt Adams came to see me….he told me he was the navigator that ejected from the jet and the only survivor of the two planes. I would like to talk with anyone who has memories of the crash because I don’t. Terry Brown (916)364 0440)

    Like

  32. I wonder what made the Fire bells to go off? did someone set them off or?

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hey Christopher —

      Very good question. Unfortunately, I haven’t a clue what the answer is. As a Pacoima alum, I remember there were many fire boxes (break glass, pull lever) throughout the school. I suppose a teacher or student activated one after impact. Just guessing though.

      Thanks for the puzzler,

      RB

      Like

  33. Russ Buchanan says:

    Note from Russ Buchanan to those who were there:

    Pacoima Jr. High alum Terry Brown, who was badly injured in the crash but has never been able to recall what happened that day, would like to speak to anyone who has a recollection of the events — especially someone who might have some idea of what happened to him. If you would like to help Terry fill in the blank spots in his memory, just write a comment on this page to that effect and I will pass the info along to Terry.

    Russ Buchanan

    Like

  34. Marilyn Wilkinson Richards says:

    Russ,
    This is a bone chilling audio of a memory deep in my mind. I was in the auditorium (in the orchestra) as the soon to be graduates were rehearsing. The sound is a little different than I remember as the screaming of the plane fell to the ground. We thought we had been bombed (by the Russians)nearby. My mother and friend’s mother were in the auditorium as well. My sister was in the elementary school right next to the gym field. My Dad was at home less than a block away. The explosion knocked my Dad off the chair he was sitting on. My sister saw the plane coming and hollered to her class “Drop!” as we had been taught to do for impending disasters. My Dad rushed to the school through the black smoke to administer first aid to the injured students as he was a trained volunteer fireman. He never forgot the sight he saw the rest of his life. And of course was concerned as to the whereabouts of his family. The school administrators handled the situation very professionally and we were not allowed to leave the auditorium until our parents came to get us and of course we were routed around the sight so as not to see the horrible sight. For weeks after the crash there were people on the field, on hands and knees, picking up pieces of the wreckage. If it not had been for the change of schedule that day due to the grad rehearsal I would have been on that gym field as well as many more students. I am so thankful the plane did not crash into the auditorium as the disaster would have been even more tragic. Praying that all of those students injured who were injured (both mentally and physically) have been healed. I know three students died. May they Rest In Peace.

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Marilyn –

      Thank you for adding your vivid account to the discussion. Yes, it’s sobering to think of what might have happened if the DC-7 had veered one way or the other — into the auditorium, classrooms or the many nearby residences. The loss of life could have been so much worse. As horrible as it was for the badly injured and, of course, the surviving families, had the plane slammed into the auditorium, with you, your mom, my father and a few hundred other souls inside, the devastation would have been too awful to imagine.

      I’ve heard from many that the school staff handled the situation exceptionally well. I have often wondered what my dad did during the initial moments and after. As I wrote above, he almost never spoke of the disaster. I think he once told me that he tried to aid one of the three — then again, I may have conjured that up during my childhood.

      Speaking of fathers, your dad’s actions on that day were those of a very good and decent man.

      Thanks again for writing,

      Russ Buchanan

      Like

      • Marilyn Richards says:

        Just a quick note, Russ. I remember your father as an extremely nice man. He was serious about educating his students and always had a very classy demeanor. I really liked him a lot.

        Like

      • Russ Buchanan says:

        Hi Marilyn –

        Thank you for your kind words about dad. They are very much appreciated. I sure miss that guy.

        RB

        Like

  35. androphiles says:

    I was a 6th-grader at Haddon Avenue School that day. We heard the noise going over us, in the direction of the Junior High. A year or so later I had Helen Snipper as teacher of a drama class at Pacoima Jr. High. One day we had a “drop drill.” Mrs. Snipper then told us about that day. She said when the noise of the plane went over her classroom the kids all dove under their desks, without anyone yelling “Drop!”, and two kids grabbed the blinds and closed them, while she stood at the front of the room stunned by the concussion outside, not knowing what to do. She said she thought the kids would’ve survived a disaster better than she would have. I knew one of the boys who was injured in the crash. He had a true survivor’s spirit.

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Androphiles –

      Yeah, it seems kids of the Cold War era were so extensively drilled with drop and cover” that they just naturally assumed the explosion was the Rooskies unloading nuclear hell on Pacoima. I remember, we used to have drop drills at Beachy Elementary often. Then, when I got to Pacoima Jr. High the drills just stopped. I never knew if it was because the school board believed nuclear war was less likely after ’65 or if they figured junior high-aged kids should be wise enough, in the event of a nuclear blast, to drop under their desks without rehearsal.

      Thanks for your input,

      RB

      Like

  36. Kris Gray says:

    Russ,
    I just wanted to bring you up to date on this very historic and important audio you are allowing us to use for the disaster drill this summer. It is perfect as the scenario is an air crash. I am working on my audio skills and have new software to clean it up and correct the speed. The learning curve is steep but if I get the hang of it, the tape will add a great deal to the training by making it much more realistic and that is a very crucial element with these type of drills. Hopefully, we can wring something positive out of a terrible tragedy. I will let you know how it turns out and thank you again for permitting us to use it.
    Kris

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Kris –

      I’m glad to hear the recording is working out for you, and for such a worthwhile cause. In a way, I’m thinking of it as a posthumous attaboy to my father, who, you may recall, made the recording.

      Thanks for the update,

      Russ Buchanan

      Like

  37. Russ,

    I was in the auditorium on the day of the crash, practicing for my graduation. Of the many times I have related the story to people through the years, my most vivid recall has been of the line in Linda’s commencement speech about having “only one life to live.” I also remember seeing ceiling tiles falling and hanging lamps swaying back and forth. The noise of the crash was so much louder than It sounded in the recording, but my husband, who was in the graduating class at San Fernando Jr. High, and did not hear the plane crash, said, when he heard the recording, “Wow.”

    Another memory I have is of the television coverage. I remember it mainly because two of my neighbor moms, Mary Jane Reid and Mrs. Harrington, were interviewed shortly after the crash. They had come to the school because, of course, they had children there. My memory does not allow me to recall what they said.

    My brother, Marvin, who was also at Pacoima Jr. High that day, may be able to tell you something about one of the boys who was injured. I’ll relay this web site to him. I thank my brother, Phil, for sending this link. Dolores Smith Pope

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Dolores –
      Thanks for your recollection of that day. Well drawn memories like yours add dimension to the story and help to give those of us who weren’t there a better idea of the situation, awful as it was.

      RB

      Like

  38. liza says:

    Oh my God this is something horrible, and i cannot even imageine the horror people who experienced the plane crash went through.

    I actually ended up on this page because i had a nightmare about me sitting in a plaine while it crashed in my school, and first when i google it i ended up on this page : http://dreammoods.com/cgibin/dreamdictionarysearch.pl?method=exact&header=dreamsymbol&search=plane about dream symnols interpretation, and actually its no wonder it crashedinto school since i feel so streesed about my exams and getting accepted into a university.

    So after that i googled “plane crash school” and this tragic airplane crash was the first that came up. I really even though im born 1993 and that is like many decades after the crash, i really feel horrible after searching about it and especially after seeing the photos of the 3 victims. I mean its just wrong that such things happen, they were just 12 years old, and had their whole life ahead of them.

    I read that many people wrote that the school has done nothin to remember the accident, and i want to really tell you Russ Buchanan what a great thing you are doing. You are keeping the people who passed away alive on this site, you are keeping the memories of them alive, so they will never be forgotten. I myself am from europe and didn’t no anything about this incident before my little exam/school related nightmare, and if there was not written anything about it on the internet i would never ever have known anything about what happened in in 1957, i dont even know where carlifonia is on a map, so i think your story is really reaching out to people.

    To be honest even after sheeding tears i still cant stop whenever i think about these kids. I remember when i was 12 and the dreams i had and how im now getting to fullfill them if i get accepted into university.I know maybe for you alot of other replays here are more interesting than mine since they seem to be from people who are from around your area or the tragic accidents

    And i am also very shocked how people were not more clever at that time that they tested planes over areas that were populated, i mean its not like the technology was better before and yet they didnt seem to think further and let such things happend.

    I read that the school does not have any kind of monnoument or something about the accident, which i think is a shame, couse even though such memories are hard to remember i think they should be remembered for the safety of children in the future, i think the school should definitely not just try to push the memories away and try to forget, because…. if your gone its hard, but if your gone and no one remembers you, thats seems even harder for me. So please try to keep the memories alive

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Liza –

      Thanks for your comment and compassionate thoughts.

      The interest and response to this story and recording have been widespread, with apparently no age or national boundaries. Though you were born many years after the Pacoima tragedy and live half a world away, the depth of your concern for the victims shows there is hope for our species yet.

      Regarding dangerous test flights: As I understand it, Pacoima parents spearheaded a successful drive to enact legislation banning future test flights over densely populated areas. As far as I know, the law(s) still is on the books.

      I hope your airplane nightmare hasn’t returned. And about those exams: STOP WORRYING. You’ll wind up getting the grade you were going to get anyway… plus an ulcer (and bad airplane dreams).

      Good luck,

      RB

      Like

      • Liza says:

        Hello again

        I have read that there are laws against testing flights obove populated areas and that they must be tested over sea.

        About the exams i have to tell you that you were totally right. I got A’s for some of them and got accepted into university to study dentistry which was my dream, so i feel like the nightmare i had was only so i could search it up and find this tragic accident. I am also very very happy that the interest for the story have been widespread, because i feel its only these childrens right to be remembered atleast since they passed away so early.

        But i have a question. To be honest i know it might be a burden for you but at the same time it will spread the knowledge about this plane crash even more. There is the webpage http://www.youtube.com, and i think it would be so great if the audio recording was put in there too. Sometimes people there go from one video to another suggestion, and that will help reach out to many people who were not even searching it up in the first place. I hope you will consider my idea.

        Like

      • Russ Buchanan says:

        Hi Liza –

        I’m glad everything went well with your studies.

        Your You Tube idea is good. I’m working on a book about the Pacoima crash, surrounding events and people. When it’s published, I will upload the crash audio and maybe snippets of interviews and slide show to YT.

        Thanks for writing again,

        RB

        Like

  39. Esther says:

    June 28.2013

    I was a student in the seventh grade on
    that terrible day. I recall recall seeing a huge
    ball of fire.and what appeared to look like
    thousand pieces of metal falling from
    the sky. I saw many students injuries on that day.
    It was horrible .

    ng a

    I was jn the

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Esther –

      The one thing I recall of that day (I was five) was the “thousand pieces of metal,” as you put it, falling out of the sky. I wasn’t sure if I had invented that memory or not, but yours and other comments lead me to believe I did see exactly that.

      Thanks for commenting,

      RB

      Like

      • bill ritchie says:

        Russ

        What was your memory of that day, were you injured, did the wreakage resemble a plane?  Were you afraid of planes because of that event?

        Bill Ritchie

        ________________________________

        Like

      • Russ Buchanan says:

        Hi Bill –

        I was only five at the time and many blocks from the school. The only memories I have of the day were the metal bits raining down and my very nervous mother (my sister and father were both on campus when the plane came down). So no, I have no lasting fears of flying. In fact, during my young adult years I flew a great deal and almost always enjoyed the experience.

        RB

        Like

  40. Bronya Feldmann says:

    I am rather dismayed to see that you have removed my post. I would like to know why, as I said nothing derogatory in any way.
    My uncle’s story was one that has not been told and I think it added to your blog rather than detracting from it.
    Bronya Feldmann

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Bronya –

      Because of the sheer number of comments, this is a problem that crops up every so often on my pages, “Pacoima Jr. High School Airplane Crash of 1957 (audio recording as it happened)” and “Eyewitness to the Carnage’ – A Personal Account of the 1957 Pacoima Crash”. I just checked and your comment is there. But, you may recall, you posted your comment on the “Eyewitness to the Carnage’ – A Personal Account of the 1957 Pacoima Crash” page, not the page containing “Pacoima Jr. High School Airplane Crash of 1957 (audio recording as it happened)”. Also, because your comment was a reply to a comment left in 2012, it appears after that comment and not near the end with more recent comments.

      Once I approve a comment, it is there for good — unless the commenter requests that I remove it. In other words, if a comment disappears, it is due to some technological hiccup, not yours truly.

      Thanks again for your comments,

      Russ Buchanan

      Like

  41. Jim Hensley says:

    Hello Russ

    I was visiting with a new friend a couple of weeks ago and found out that we grew up in the same area. Our conversation focused on the plane crash. We shared memories and that aroused my curiosity. That led me to your site and all of the information everyone has added as comments.
    I lived on Daventry street and attended Telfair Avenue School. On that day I was in 4th grade and in my classroom when we all heard the DC-7. Our teacher yelled at the class to drop and cover. My buddy and I ran for the door, jumped the banister of the stairs and positioned ourselves so we could see what was happening. I had a clear view of the plane. Windows and room walls were rattling and shaking. The noise was something out of a action movie. The plane was heading toward Pacoima Jr. High. It’s right side engine and possibly wing was on fire. It was very low. Maybe 500 to 1000 feet off the ground. The most incredible image of all was the open window in the cockpit area with smoke coming out of it and what appeared to be the pilot with his head partially out. I don’t know if he did that in order to see better or to be able breathe. We watched while it flew out of sight and finally the plume of smoke. We both got in trouble for running outside but I didn’t care.
    My family moved to the west side of Pacoima so I wasn’t able to attend PJH until 1960. 8th and 9th grades. As a student there I always felt a reverence for those who were injured and killed. I felt connected to the terrible history.

    Thank you for providing this history and a media for those who remember to express those memories.

    Jim Hensley (PJH Class of W 62)

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Jim –

      Thanks for contributing your vivid memory of that day. I was trying to imagine seeing what you saw at the tender age of a fourth grader. It must have been a weird combination of terror and excitement, not to mention, a very abrupt and premature introduction to mortality.

      Thanks again –

      RB

      Like

  42. David L. Clevenger says:

    I am 70 years old now and just listened to the recording again for the first time since the crash. It gave me chills and brought me back to that day on the field. I was just lineing up for the end of the period after playing soccer. It was cold that day and we had not changed into our gym clothes. When I heard that sound I took off running for the basketball courts on the right side of the field. For some reason I stopped running and put my head down on the back of the portable bleachers. At impact I was blown over the bleachers and landed in a pool of hot oil. One of the engines slide into the next set of bleached, where I would have been If I had not stopped. I was soaked in oil, my heavy coat was ripped up from flying bits of metal but had no real injuries. I remember seeing the pilot also. In my mind he was waving frantically for us to get out of the way. (But that may be memory modification over the years).

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi David –

      Thanks for your contribution.

      You know, you are not alone in your memory of seeing the pilot gesturing from the cockpit. Other commenters remember the same chilling sight.

      Also, I think a number of other contributors here remembered seeing you that day. They wrote about seeing a classmate bathed in smoking oil with his shredded jacket hanging off him.

      Thanks again,

      RB

      Like

      • Terry Brown says:

        Russ: I just read David Clevenger’s note about the crash. It sounds like he was at the same place on the field as I was. I wrote you a note on March 9, 2013 trying to find anyone who remembers what happened because I don’t. Could you put me in contact with David? Terry Brown

        Like

  43. Russ,

    My name is Nick Waite and I have managed to avoid being too public about the Pacoima plane crash (because it is not a very happy place to go). Thanks to those who have shared their thoughts here. Blessings to those who were hurt and my thoughts are with the families of those who passed away.

    We had moved to Pacoima at the beginning of the school year. My dad had joined the Air National Guard in Idaho about a year before, and had gotten a transfer to the Van Nuys National Guard Base (146th Fighter-Interceptor Wing). He was a Sabre Jet mechanic. My parents rented a house on Morehart Avenue, less than a mile from Terra Bella Elementary. I was in the third grade.

    Prior to the plane crash, my “row” was drawing/painting on easels next to the windows. I think the rest of the classroom was reading. I heard the screaming sound of the DC-7 coming in and caught a glimpse of things falling from the sky followed by a floor shaking explosion and flash of light. Some kids hid under their desks, others “dog-piled” on the floor in front of the teacher, I was one of those. The fire bells started ringing and we were led outside. Things were a mess on the other side of the fence from us. Fire, kids screaming, people from the neighborhood filling the school yard, emergency vehicles trying to get in.

    We were taken back in to the class room and waited for a long time. We were able to leave the classroom to go to the bathroom. I took my turn. I remember holding on to the chain link fence with both hands, trying make sense of it all. By now there seemed to be hundreds of people in the crash area. The fire seemed to be out, but things were still smoking. A taller boy, standing to my right, said “look there is a leg.” I said if that is a leg, then where is the rest of the …… I then began to see more. I felt sick and light headed. By then, I was really hanging on to the fence.

    I heard a high pitched beeping sound behind me and turned around to see my dad, in a military jeep, making his way through the crowd. He had been working in the motor pool when the Air Base was alerted about the crash. He grabbed a jeep and took off for Terra Bella. Upon his arrival, he was white as a ghost. I was tossed into the jeep and we got out of there. He said something about getting back to the Base because he hadn’t checked out. Upon arriving at the base, I guess he had a lot of explaining to do, because I sat in the jeep for a long time. Two men appeared from the back of the hanger and asked me questions, for which they seemed to already have answers. They were probably looking for info that was already in the rumor mill. Jets were taking off and landing, rattling my nerves. Men were working on jets in different states of repair. My little brain was going a hundred miles an hour. Then, the thought came to me that these guys had something to do with the crash. I bailed out of the jeep, ran out of the hanger, and ran down the tarmac. After my “capture,” I was taken into an office and told to wait. There was more jet noise. This time I remembered to crawl under the desk. As I got older, I guessed that the jets that were coming and going were probably working the other incident, the downed Scorpion.

    After completing his shift, my dad pulled me (kicking and screaming) from under the desk. He was not happy with my behavior. We drove home in silence. If my dad thought he was in trouble for being AWOL at work, my mother was about to finish his day.

    Someone from school had called my mom to see if I had run home. A policeman came by later to see if I had come home. She told him she didn’t know where I was. My mom was pretty sore that my dad hadn’t called her. Upon our arrival, she called the school to tell them that I had been found. After talking to the school, she told me that school would be closed for a few days until they could clean off the fence. I knew that they were going to have to clean more than the fence. My parents and I never spoke of the plane crash again.

    Although the DC7 was a “prop” plane, I seemed to have associated all forms of jet noise to the crash. Soon after the crash, my dad was transferred to the California Air National Guard Base (196th Tactical Air Support Group) in Ontario. I finished 3rd grade there.

    Post Incident:

    I joined Newport Beach Fire Department in 1971. The Paramedic system was new and I graduated in the 6th Paramedic class in 1975. Our department decided to host a mass causality drill. The scenario was an airplane crash out of John Wayne Airport. We mocked up an airliner fuselage out of wood and visqueen. In summary, the disaster drill was a disaster. It made me think of the crews that had responded to the real thing in Pacoima. Our big issues revolved around determine which patients should be transported first and how much treatment should be done at the scene prior to transport. We had a couple of ER Docs from Hoag Hospital at the scene. During our post incident review, we tried to figure out what would be the best way to triage patients. We were unable to find an existing triage system to use. Unable to find anything, we tasked ourselves to create one.

    The program we developed is known as START (Simple Triage And Rapid Transport). START is now a module of the National Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) curriculum.

    The California Fire Service has an organization known as FIRESCOPE which was tasked with developing and implementing the fire service Incident Command System (ICS). It was organized under the California Office of Emergency Services. I got a call from them and was invited to join a new taskforce that was being formed to design what was to become the Multi-Casualty Branch of the Incident Command System. It includes important response assets such as Hospital Emergency Response Teams (HERT), Emergency Medical Cashes, hospital communication methods (to help avoid moving the disaster from the scene to nearby hospitals that are already overwhelmed). The system integrates with Urban Search And Rescue (USAR) teams, Hazardous Materials (HazMat) teams, High rise firefighting operations, law enforcement operations, and any other operations that may be occurring at the same time. This Incident Command System has spread from the west coast to the east. It was adopted by the Homeland Defense Department post 9/11 Commission Report, and was renamed the National Incident Management System (NIMS).

    In 1993 I entered a bachelors degree program at March Air force Base (more jet noise). My major was in Human Resource Development. It was designed for folks that were interested in Vocational Instruction and Vocational Course Development. I developed the Orange County Mass Casualty Plan as my class project. With the help of other Paramedics, Nurses, Physicians, Fire Chiefs, private ambulance companies, and other Orange County Agencies, the plan is in place and several Mass Casualty Drills are put on every year. Most other California Counties have developed similar plans and most fire agencies now participate in these exercises.

    Many years after the Pacoima air crash (late 1960’s), schools began implementing counseling programs for traumatized students. Most Fire and Police Departments, and EMS agencies have adopted post incident stress debriefing or counseling programs (late 1970’s). When I started in the fire service everyone was expected to just suck it up, and as many of you know, “it’s not easy!”

    Like others who have blogged here, it wasn’t until my mid thirties that I could fly in an airplane without my palms sweating and my stomach flipping over. For those who have nightmares, I have always called them “chase dreams.” I used to have a lot of them, especially during my Paramedic years. I retired in 2001 and am down to about one a month now.

    My wife CeCe and I now live in Challis, Idaho. We have been married 35 years. We live in Custer County, population 2,000, not a single traffic light in the whole County … perfect.

    Looking backwards, connecting the dots, a very personal journey began on the morning of January 31st, 1957. As I travel back to that place my heart goes out, once again, to all those kids, teachers, parents, flight crews, and first responders whose lives were forever changed that day.

    Finally Russ, thanks for providing this place for us to express our thoughts.

    – Nick Waite

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Nick –

      I am still amazed at the vivid detail in yours and others’ accounts. Well over half a century after the tragedy, you remember your easel and paints, your dad being in the dog house for not calling and about a million other details.

      As an emergency responder, you may be interested to know that an organization of responders — EMT, firefighters, medics, etc. is using a digitally restored copy of my crash audio for a large training exercise this year. The organizers believe the sound of an actual disaster will lend gravitas and realism to the drill.

      Thank you very much for your story,

      RB

      Like

      • Russ Buchanan says:

        Hey Nick –

        By the way, I’m not sure how your comment wound up appearing as if it came from me, but I’ll look into it. Probably some sort of WordPress glitch or other. I apologize.

        RB

        Like

      • Kris Gray says:

        Russ,
        I wanted to let you know that we had our disaster drill 2 weeks ago and the recording really caught people off guard. Our scenario was crop duster versus military troop transport. I was able to clean it up and add some extra effects. Many found it very disturbing, which was good because they then had to go to work – just like in real life.
        I am now teaching disaster response to emergency services and, with your permission, would like to utilize the recording in my classes.
        P.S. Now it makes me think of your father too (but in a good way).
        Kris

        Like

  44. Russ Buchanan says:

    Hey Kris –

    I’m delighted that a) you used it and b) it worked for you. And yes, you have my permission to use the audio in your classes. If there is no giant logistical or technical hurdle, would you send me an mp3 of the souped-up version of the audio you used in the drill? It would strictly be for my own use — I wouldn’t post it or use it in any other public way. But only send me the copy if it’s easy for you to do. I think you have my email address — I’ll check. If not, I have yours and I’ll send it to you.

    Thanks for the kind words about dad,

    RB

    Like

    • Nick Waite says:

      Russ and Kris,

      Nice to think that the recording Russell’s dad made will be used this way:-)

      Kris, If there is anything I can help you with, let me know.

      – Nick Waite

      Like

    • Karen Bakken maxwell says:

      Hey just a BIG hello, I was in your class too, and was in the auditorium with you, I think it’s interesting you are in Duluth Minn. that’s where I was born and lived until we came to Pacoima, Ca. Hope you are doing well! I like you, remember the crash vividly. Will never forget the impact. And when released from the auditorium, what we saw. God bless

      Like

      • Kris Gray says:

        Russ,
        Send me an email address and I’ll try to send the mp3 I made as an attachment. I thought I might be able to click and drag it to the comment section but that didn’t work.
        Kris

        Like

      • Allan Fredenburg says:

        This site has confirmed my memories of the crash. I was in the 6th grade at Beachy Ave. Elementary School. I was in Mrs. Coughlin’s class. The class or I (not sure which) was in the library at Beachy on the Easterly side of the school. My recollection is that there were windows all along the wall of the library looking toward Pacoima Jr. Hi. I remember a thump then the screaming sound of the plane. I have wondered if I really heard this, but after reading the other accounts on this site I am sure I did. I don’t remember hearing the explosion but I ran over to the windows and remember seeing the black smoke and a lot of debris twirling in the air. I wondered if I actually saw the debris in the air, but now I believe I did. It looked to me like what had happened was just on the other side of the houses across the street from the school. Little did I know that a plane had crashed at the school my brother was attending. He was in the 7th grade, but not on the gym field. I remember Evan Elsner, but I did not know him. He must have lived near me on Beachy Ave. I lived on the Easterly side of Beachy at the corner of Garber in the older houses that were there before all the tract houses were built. I don’t recall my parents reaction to the crash. My brother passed away many years ago, so I can’t talk to him about it. Thank you for this site. It has helped my recollection of the events on January 31,1957.

        Like

      • Russ Buchanan says:

        Hi, Alan –
        Like you, I was unsure whether I had actually seen what I remembered as shiny, tin foil-like bits of metal falling from the sky, or if I’d somehow developed the memory from repeatedly hearing others’ accounts. I was five so I doubt I even knew what tin foil was. But still, I’m pretty darned sure I did see it.

        Good to hear from a neighbor — I lived in one of the very nearby tract homes and was always impressed by houses like yours, with the gigantic yards and big ranch-style houses.

        Thank you for writing about your memory of that day.

        RB

        Like

  45. gary rabbitt says:

    Hello Russ, thank you for these pages. I ran across another site that mentioned that there was an American Legion awards ceremony going on a the time of the crash. Was there to your knowledge two events going on at the school? Link to the other page
    http://www.janm.org/collections/item/96.267.412/
    Your recording sounds like a graduation, but wanted to try and sort out the other report of an awards ceremony, and special assembly in the auditorium of the school.
    Thanks again. Gary.

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi again, Gary –

      It was my understanding that they were holding a graduation rehearsal in front of B-9 students. As I recall, scholarship awards from such organizations as the American Legion, Rotary Club, Lions, etc. were often part of the proceedings. I too have heard the American Legion reference. If any reader happens to know what exactly was going on in the auditorium at the time of the crash, please write.

      Thanks Gary,

      RB

      Like

      • Karen Bakken maxwell says:

        THE REHERSAL FOR GRADUATION WAS GOING ON IN THE AUDITORIUM, ANY OTHER STUDENTS RELATED TO THE GRADUATES THAT ATTENDED PJH, WERE INVITED TO THE REHERSAL CEREMONY, INCLUDING PARENTS, THEY WERE ANNOUNCING AWARDS DURING THIS TIME, OUR SCHOOL WAS ON ASSEMBLY SCHEDULE, WHICH IT MENT CLASSES WERE CHANGED ABIT. TIME WISE, OTHERWISE MORE OF US WOULD HAVE BEEN ON THE GYM FIELD. INCLUDING MY BROTHER AND I, WE WERE IN THE AUDITORIUM, HE WAS GRADUATING AND I WAS IN B-9. Hope this clears up a question of rotary ect. Thanks for the opportunity. Karen Bakken. And Larry Bakken

        Like

      • Russ Buchanan says:

        Hi Karen and Larry –

        Yeah, that’s what I remember dad telling me. Thank you both for clearing up the graduation rehearsal/American Legion mystery.

        RB

        Like

  46. Michael (Mike) Russell says:

    After just watching The Ritchie Valens movie again, I binged this site…. I was 9 years old when the crash happened… I was at San Jose Street School, near Woodman and Devonshire in the valley… I can remember our windows rattled and some even broke.
    After school we went with my mom to pick up our baby sitter, her name was Joyce, I do not remember her last name, anyway, she lived on Laurel Canyon right across the street from the school… I saw the devastation and will remember the incident the rest of my life. There were many stories where a lady hanging her clothes on the line had a wing crash to the ground at her feet across the street from the school.. she was not hurt, but I can imagine scared to death.
    Thanks for this site and the memories….
    MIchael Russell also a graduate of James Monroe High School, as was Donna…

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Michael –

      Thanks for writing.

      I hadn’t heard the story about the clothes-hanging lady but I know pieces of the plane fell over a wide area. I believe it was an engine that crashed through the roof of our church.

      Your old neighborhood brought up memories for me. My first band spent many hours in a Mission Hills garage learning how to play and annoying the neighbors.

      RB

      Like

  47. Robyn Myers says:

    I remember hearing a tape of the crash that the music teacher, Mr Morse, had. He played it for us once. I think we were singing at the dedication of Pacoima Memorial Hospital. It was a long time ago

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Robyn –

      Paul Morse, who passed away a few years ago, was a very close friend of my family. In fact, Paul and my father were colleagues during the 50s when dad taught at Pacoima. I think dad had given Paul a copy of the tape back then. That is likely what Paul played at the dedication.

      Thanks for writing,

      RB

      Like

  48. Russ, I was just looking through the blog again for familiar names (I wrote my memories earliert). I was friends with Pam and I remember Karen Bakken as well. Strange how a disaster so many years ago can bring back good memories as well as the bad.

    Like

    • Karen Bakken maxwell says:

      Hi Marilyn, I too remember you! Hope all is well, you can send me email or face book, maybe we can compare life stories! 😊

      Like

  49. Jim Petralia says:

    Russ,

    I can’t tell you how much this website has affected me. I was telling my son and his girlfriend just the other night about the crash. Even though it was many years ago and I was very young, my memory is so vivid it takes people by surprise. I was in kindergarten at Terra Bella School. I remember looking out the window of the classroom that overlooked the field of the junior high. I remember seeing a couple of kids from the junior high that were lingering by the fence in the field. What I remember next was the sound. Thinking back it was rather eerie, like the sound of a plane plummeting out of the sky in a movie scene. The sound was a whisper at first and then it starting getting louder and louder and louder. The sound became a scream and I froze along with everyone in my classroom. The teacher yelled for everyone to huddle together in the middle of the classroom. I am sure she did this out of pure fear and not knowing what to expect. The next thing I remember is the crash. It was deafening. My classroom rocked violently back and forth from the impact. I looked up and there were gigantic waves of flames in the field directly next to my classroom. At that moment everything was chaos and the next thing I remember was my teacher yelling at us to go home. I remember that I left my classroom and ran around the building and into the field. There were other people there, it was oily and a lot of debris. I was told to leave and I started to run home. I remember a lot of parents running towards the school and I saw my parents who to say the least were ecstatic to see me alive. I just spoke with my Dad about seeing your website and he told me that when they learned of the crash near the school they ran over to find me. He mentioned that he used to pick me up at the same spot each day and that on that day part of the landing gear from the plane landed in the same spot. We were both very lucky that day.

    I listened to the recording. I am surprised at myself. It was an emotional event for me. It was so long ago. This was truly cathartic for me. I offer my best wishes to all who shared this experience.

    Jim Petralia

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Jim –

      Thank you for your recollection.
      I hoped these Pacoima pages might have cathartic value for some readers, and it seems that they have.

      RB

      Like

  50. Martie Vagt (Calhoun) says:

    Thanks for all your memories and thoughts about tragic morning…..it would nice if we could find a way to have get together to see how we have all grown up! The tragic memories will be in my heart forever along with the great friends who suffered with injuries or lost family members. Mark Boone,David Jones and of course Ritchie Vallens (Richard Vallenswella) made our 9th grade year full of music…..they would entertain us at lunch time…….we were happy young people!

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Martie –

      Thanks for writing and for your kind words for the victims and their families. I haven’t heard about any reunion in the offing but it’s a good idea. By the way, I went to Pacoima a decade later and there was still lots of music going on. I guess we Pacoimans are just a musical bunch.

      RB

      Like

      • Edward McKervey says:

        Mr. Buchanan,
        May I have permission to post your link onto a Facebook page called, https://www.facebook.com/groups/59234735717/, as well as my own? I was sitting at a lunch bench at Montague Street School when I heard a shrill screaming sound that would simulate a missile. I looked up toward my right and saw a big airplane (I was in the second grade, about 7 years old) on fire. As my memory serves the left wing was severely damaged, maybe missing. As I lost view of the plane, a few seconds later I saw a huge ball of flames and black smoke rise into the air.
        Unforgettable.

        Like

      • Russ Buchanan says:

        Hi Edward —

        Thanks for your interest. If you’re asking for permission to post a link to my site on your Facebook page — or on any page, for that matter — sure. But please do not copy and paste any of the text to another site . I’ve been having that kind of trouble lately — someone even tried to post my audio at another site — and it only reduces readership at these pages.

        RB

        Like

  51. Terry Brown says:

    Today is the 57th anniversary of the plane crash; I think about it every January 31st. I posted a comment on Russ Buchanan’s website some time ago asking anyone who was on the field that day to contact me. I was injured and was told I was awake and running before I was hit but can’t remember anything. I was hoping someone would tell me what they remember. Since I first posted my note I was contacted by one person and we had a good talk. If there is anyone else, please call me. Terry Brown (916) 364 0440. Thanks Russ for posting this.

    Like

  52. […] event can be seen here. Amazingly, a program in the school auditorium was being recorded, and the sounds of the crash can be heard here, as well as some eye-witness […]

    Like

  53. Lydia Fernandez says:

    HI Russ
    I went to this school on 1967 and always remember hearing some of the teachers saying they were there on that day. When did your dad retire. Im wondering if I had him as a teacher. I graduated 1969. Oh, and who was Richie Valens best friend I know it was one of the boys that died but who was it.

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Lydia –

      My dad, John Buchanan, moved on to LA Valley College from Pacoima Jr. High in 1958 so you wouldn’t have been in his class. Since I went to Pacoima ’64-’67, I missed him too. I always thought it would have been kinda fun to be in his class.

      Regarding Ritchie Valens’ friend: there seems to be some dispute as to whether one of the victims was Valens’ best friend. All three of the boys were considerably younger than he, but it’s certainly possible. If anyone knows, please write.

      Thanks for writing, Lydia –

      RB

      Like

  54. Jules says:

    http://angiejim.homestead.com/crash.html

    I found this website with a bunch of newspaper clippings on the event. I’m not sure if any of the commentors here are depicted in the clippings, but it should prove an interesting read. Very powerful stories have been written here, and I hope that you may all find peace of mind and heart one day with regard to this tragic event.

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Jules –

      Thanks for the info. I have been to that site, and you’re right, there are some very interesting and moving entries there.

      RB

      Like

  55. Bob Walance says:

    Thanks, Russ, for sharing all of this amazing material.

    I was just a baby living in Pacoima at the time on Cedros Ave. Having not heard of this terrible event until now, it makes me wonder if it was the incentive for my parents to move us away from Pacoima in 1958. I will never know if that was the reason.

    By the way, in the audio recording you have, to me it sounds like the school official is saying:

    “It was a jet blast. That’s all there is to it. It’s all over.”

    Bob

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Bob –

      You know, I think you just might be on to something here. I just listened again and he could very well be saying “jet blast.” At any rate, it sounds a lot closer to “jet blast” than “it was just loud…” and I thank you for the correction.

      Thanks for writing and for having terrific ears,

      RB

      Like

    • Michael (Mike) Russell says:

      Hmmmm… Cedros Ave was not in Pacoima, Cedros is two blocks west of Van Nuys Blvd, I used to live on that street off Parthenia…. guess it really doesn’t matter however.

      Like

  56. Dan Bergmen says:

    I was in the second grade at Strathern Street School in North Hollywood at the time of the crash. The windows of our classroom faced north and provided a nearly unobstructed view of the events. At the sound of the DC-7 during it’s high speed descent (a sound I will never forget and I can remember it vividly as though it happened yesterday), all of us students and the teacher rushed to the windows. It was loud enough (even though we were a few miles away) that we at first felt we were vulnerable.

    A large plane in flames was heading straight down and the impact was quite loud to us. Most memorable to me was the large black mushroom cloud of smoke immediately after impact.

    My heart goes out to any and all who experienced this disaster. I am devastated by the deaths and injuries but so thankful that there were not more. It could have been much, much more tragic.

    Eight months after this crash, our family of four boarded a Northwest Orient Airlines DC-7 to fly to Japan where we moved to live for four years. We crossed the Pacific Ocean four times in DC-7s.

    Dan

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Dan –

      Thanks for your recollection.

      I’m curious, did the sound on the recording sound like what you remember hearing?

      RB

      Like

      • Dan Bergmen says:

        Yes, eerily so. I had chills up my spine when I heard your recording, like it was yesterday.

        Dan

        Like

  57. I was in second grade, Ms. Uptagraph, Terra Bella Elementary. Our class just got off the bus on Terra Bella St to go through the north side gate of the school along the walk in front of the bungalows by the fence that divided the jr hight and elementary. We were in the open when the debris starting falling and the ground shaking. Several of us fell as we were instructed to run to the covered lunch area. As I was running, I saw the kids trying to climb the fence, the fires, the screaming, and some of the injured. Our bungalow classroom backed up to the fence division. Days later we were allowed back into class because a large piece of metal flew through and embedded in to the wall. As fate was with us, it probably would have decapitated several of us. Years later, my husband worked with a gentlemen named Pat, who lost his leg in the event. Today, I still have problems with low flying planes, which happens often in Littlerock, CA. TY for the thread and my best to all.

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Barbara –

      Thank you for your input. The image of a hunk of metal slicing through an elementary school classroom is terrifying. You’re right, fate definitely was on your and your classmates’ side that day.

      RB

      Like

  58. The bus trip that day went to Roger Jessup’s Farm. I had two cousins, Kathy & Patricia Zeise, who were in class at Pacoima Jr High that day. Our family lived at 13328 Kagel Cyn. right across from the faculty driveway. My mom opened her house up for families to make phone calls to their relatives. During the next few days after, the.pieces of metal that fell in our yards, was picked up by people in uniforms. Do not know which branch.

    Like

  59. cmcdes says:

    One of my Facebook friends living in Dahlonega, GA posted an article about the plane crash that killed Ritchie Valens. I found this blog while Google searching for information about that crash. Related to the 1957 crash, I was 5 years old and playing on my parent’s front porch. I saw the planes collide mid-air. We lived on Varna Ave., 1.25 miles from Pacoima Junior High. We walked to what would later become my junior high school accompanied by our next door neighbor Jan Soderman. I still remember seeing a great deal of plane parts scattered across the gym field.

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Cmdes – thanks for commenting. I’m always struck by how widespread the interest in Richie Valens continues to be so long after his death. So many readers of this blog got here through their searches about Valens — as you did.
      Thanks again –

      RB

      Like

  60. Rocky says:

    Fascinating stuff. I have a little bit to add to the story. In 2009 I was working as a behavioral specialist for the Summit County (Ohio) Juvenile Court. My job was to help families deal with severe emotional and behavioral issues that were keeping them in the cycle of poverty, substance abuse, crime, etc. I was assigned a family with a 16 year old girl who had run away from home. After assuring the young lady’s safety and involvement in counseling, I turned my attention to the broader family issues. The young lady was living with her mother who had significant mental health issues of her own. Over the several months I was working with her, she revealed bits and pieces of some traumatic event that had happened, but I could make no sense of it. No one involved with the family could offer any insight as to what she had experienced. One day near the end of my involvement with the family, she said something about “body parts”, “children running and screaming”, and “airplane”. I felt comfortable enough with her at that point to poke around a little. I asked where this was and she said, “Pacoima Junior High School.” Then she just started talking. She said she ran onto the playground and there was chaos – apparently parts of the aircraft were still falling. There was fire. Children were running and screaming. Several times she came back to a pair of shoes. She mentioned a couple of children by name (sadly I made no note of them). When I left that day, I searched for information on such an event and found the reports of the midair collision that led to this story. I was able to talk to her about it a couple more times. Clearly, this event had left her with what now would be called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and caused serious problems for the rest of her life. I was able to share this information with the other professionals involved in the case and she was able, at least, to unload some of the emotions she had been holding inside.

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Rocky –

      One of the most interesting and enlightening comments yet.
      Many who’ve commented here have told about the deep and lasting scars on their psyches from having witnessed the crash. Yours is the first to tell about those scars from a mental health professional’s point of view. Fascinating and, considering the effect her unresolved feelings might have had on her daughter, very sad.

      Thanks again –
      RB

      Like

  61. I was a few blocks away at Montegue Elementary School (I believe 1st Grade) when I heard the roaring noise of the impending crash. I ran out of my classroom and saw the plane spiraling down and then the huge plume of smoke. Definitely left a mark on my young memory. Many of my childhood friends had similar stories as I read with Mark G. and Garth R. Many years later upon growing up I joined the LAFD/Paramedic Rescue. I don’t know if that contributed to my career decision…but I suspect that tragic event and being too young to help may have somehow led me to the LAFD. At least on the LAFD my actions could make a difference and count. As a young child…no.

    Like

  62. Mike Agerton says:

    I heard the planes crash, I watched the smoke rise, I ran inside our classroom with all the other kids wondering what we had just seen. I remember discussing in class what had just happened, what we had just whiteness. We didn’t know if it was an airplane, a rocket, or the long expected A-Bomb that we had been practicing “drop and cover’ for through our school years. Within minutes we knew that it had been an airplane that crashed into Pacoima Jr. High School. My brother was in the auditorium for graduation ceremonies, I was in the 4th grade on the playground for recess. We watched the helicopters for the rest of the afternoon, flying back and fourth with stretchers on each side carrying the dead and injured (they looked like the helicopters from M.A.S.H.). When they finally let us out of school with instruction to go home, we all went over to the Jr. high school to look. Is was crazy. I remember the engine that landed on the schoolyard fence, the airplane door on the roof of a car across the street and the airplane seats everywhere. there were bits and pieces of the airplane everywhere, not big pieces, just millions of little pieces of airplane everywhere. I remember the church yard, the Terra Bella school yard, and the playground covered with pieces of junk. Junk that had been an DC-7 airplane, junk that had hurtled from the explosion, junk that maimed and killed our friends. Junk that changed our lives forever. By the time they let us out of school, the bodies and the injured were taken away, we saw them fly over our heads in the helicopters, but the wreckage was still there, everywhere. Hell, I was only in the 4th grade, I had watched the movies, but this was nothing like the movies, this was real. I remember every minute of it. It was like… Yesterday.
    Today I fly, I am a pilot, but I remember. I had harrowing moments in my years of flying, but nothing like that day. That day is still only yesterday and it was 57 years ago. I am a man now, not a kid. I still cry when I try to tell people what happened that day.

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Mike – thank you for your detailed recollection. That day was definitely seared into many young minds.

      RB

      Like

  63. Nick Waite says:

    Russ, I have put text to your audio file into an mp4. It is pretty cool.
    I Don’t know how to send it to you.

    -Nick Waite

    Like

  64. Pamela J. Carr Wolfson says:

    I remember January 31, 1957, like it was yesterday. I was 9 yrs old and my brother was 11 yrs old, students at Canyon Elementary School, and my mother, Margaret Eck Carr, came to Canyon Elementary shortly after she heard the news on T.V. to tell us that our father, William (Bill) Carr had died in a plane crash. She wanted to tell us about the crash before anyone else at the school. My father was the pilot of the DC-7 and my parents had moved to the Pacific Palisades from La Canada two years prior to the crash. My mother was 36 yrs old and she promised my brother and I that she would try to keep the house so we could finish school with our friends. My mother, long story short, worked full-time for several dentists in Santa Monica, enabling my brother and I to graduate from Palisades High School. She never remarrried, and celebrated her 94th birthday this month. I went to Santa Monica College, and graduated from a business college with a degree in accounting and had a successful 40-year carrer in administration/accounting, married my husband, whom I met while spending our summers at Lake Arrowhead, have one daughter who is 41 and we are now retired and moved in 2007 to Prescott, AZ, after spending 34 years in Pasadena. My brother graduated from Northridge State Univ and, ironically, went on to have a very successful career as a corporate pilot for over 40 years! He now lives in Boulder City, NV. My cousin, Chris Carr, forwarded an article about the 50-year reunion at PJH…I would have loved to attended! So one link lead to another and as I read all of the stories, it brings tears to me! My mom never really said much about the kids that were killed and injured – so sad, but they aren’t alone, as I think about it often myself and wonder what my life would be like today had I had my father. My mother received telegram condolences from all over the world -my father was in the Air Transport Command during WWII, then went to work for Seaboard & Western training pilots in various countries to fly the Douglas aircraft, then went to work for Douglas as a test pilot. My mother saved all documents, including an envelope with my Dad’s personal effects that he wore the day of the crash. Such a sad day for so many!

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Pamela –

      Thank you so much for your comment. I am sure readers here will appreciate your family’s story and the brave and loving actions of your mother on that day.
      As you are probably aware, many credit your father for managing to avoid nearby buildings and preventing a much larger calamity.

      Again, thank you –

      Russ Buchanan

      Like

  65. Pamela J. Carr Wolfson says:

    “As you are probably aware, many credit your father for managing to avoid nearby buildings and preventing a much larger calamity”…yes, thank you Russ, for adding to the story!

    Like

  66. Joel D Anderson says:

    I attended Fernaneles Elementer, in sun valley 6 th grade. Heard the crash everyone thought it was a sonic boom. Moment later a student barged into the room to tell of the crash and the pilot para hooting. Everyone ran to the window to see and the teacher was trying to keep us in our seats. Dad took us to see the crash when he got home from work. Another living witness.

    Like

  67. cmcdes says:

    Nanci mentioned walking home from Beach Ave. elementary. A little detour here. I still have all of my Beachy class photos. I still remember some of the kids in my classes like… Craig Bentley, Walter Gorse, Jeff Abraham, Pam Gates, Scott Roberts, Suzanne Maltz, Dennis Liff, Jim Roubal, As far as teachers, I remember Mr. Marto, Mrs. Oshatz, Mrs. Stowsky and I believe it was Mr. Praglin who taught class and kept his pack of cigarettes in his front shirt pocket. Talk about different times. Anyway, I may remember Nanci. Always liked “Rusty”. He had good social skills at an early age. I apologize for being off-topic.

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Wow, I remember almost all the students names you mentioned — Gates, Liff, Roberts and Maltz and all the teachers you named. Plus a few others — Mrs. Aldritch, my kindergarten teacher, Mr. Simpson (I think), my first grade teacher and Miss Christie, second grade, who tried desperately to get me to switch from being left handed — to no avail. Thank you for complimenting my youthful self’s social skills. Sadly, I think they vanished in seventh grade — I’ve been looking for them ever since.

      RB

      Like

  68. 32and53fan says:

    Cmcdes, Russ – What years are you talking about? I attended Beachy Ave. from Sept. 1957 to June 1962 (5th grade). That September, the brand new Liggett St. Elementary School opened and I had to go there.

    At Beachy, I remember being in the classes of Mrs. Oshatz and Mr. Marto.
    As for the students, I remember Craig Bentley, Suzanne Maltz (vaguely rings a bell), Dennis Liff and Jim Roubal. But I think I remember them from Pacoima Junior High, not Beachy.
    I recall that some kids were having some twisted fun at Craig Bentley’s expense, spreading rumors that he had been intimate with a tree.

    My real name is Brian O’Connell.

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hey Brian –
      I think I was about a year after you. I was born in ’52 and started at Beachy when I was six. I had Mrs. Oschatz for third grade and Mr. Marto for fourth. Then my family went to Europe for a year and a half. I returned to Beachy at the very end of my sixth grade (following a semester at Lowman School for the Handicapped).

      I don’t remember Craig Bentley, but he sounds like a kid with interesting hobbies.

      RB

      Like

    • cmcdes says:

      Craig Bentley lived around the corner from us on Canterbury street, a couple doors down from Raymond Eaker. Unfortunately Raymond was killed in a motorcycle accident in his twenties. Craig’s nickname was “Beetle Bentley”. He would pick up those black beetles crawling on the sidewalk on the way to Liggett elementary and torment kids along the way. I remember thinking, please don’t put one of those things in my hair or on my clothes. He was actually a good natured kid that was singled out for abuse. He seemed to like the attention and didn’t appear bothered by it. I remember Mr. Marto was a pretty cool teacher for the most part. When he would lose control of the class, he’d literally blow his top. Next there was dead silence in the classroom. Scared the crap out of everyone. At Pacoima Jr. HIgh, “Rusty’s” locker was next to mine. Frequently girls hung out around that area. Rusty was popular with the ladies. I remember, “Rusty’s” dad ran for political office. I think it may have been city council. At PJHS, I was good friends with John Ritoli who played with a band called the “Showmen”. They were very good and practiced all the time. John was their bass player. I remember walking down Pierce St. to Richard Keller’s house one day and Rusty was playing lead guitar with the Showmen practicing in a garage. The song was “We Ain’t Got Nothing Yet”. I wonder what ever happened to Roy Reasoner? He was very talented and I think his girlfriend was Wendy Peysar. I do remember Brian O’Connell and think I could find him some of the class pictures from Beachy. I’m now 63, born in 1952.

      Like

      • Russ Buchanan says:

        Wow, what a prance down memory lane. I can clearly picture Mr. Marto’s rotund face. Yeah, I liked him too. I can picture Raymond Eaker, as well. Little fellow — well, I suppose we all were little back then, but he was littler. Sorry to hear he was killed at such a tender age. And the Showman — with large Jack Ritoli. I haven’t talked to that guy since those days. I think the last time I saw him was on stage together with an offshoot of the Showmen — we opened for Eric Burton and the Animals at the Carousel Theater in, uh, Covina, I think. I remember there was an electrical problem that caused his amp to repeatedly emit a very loud flatulent-like sound at about a billion decibels, while the lead microphone was sending blue arcs of house current into my nose. Ah, the good old days. I heard he came out of the Marine Corps, slim and buff.

        Like

  69. Sheryl Hendricks Phillips says:

    Russ, thank you for hosting this area where people who experienced the Pacoima plane crash can come to share and support one another. I was 8 years old, but was at Plummer Elementary in Sepulveda, nearly 3 miles SW of Pacoima JHS. My only memory of this event was my parents speaking in hushed tones after reading/hearing a news report. They wouldn’t talk to me about it or answer questions and I have wondered all these years what happened. I now know. Oh, my.

    I would like to listen to your audio recording, but haven’t been able to make it work. Have you disabled it?

    Thanks again for providing such a helpful service for those who need it and thank you especially for your sensitive and very specific comments to each person who has written his/her account.

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Sheryl –

      Thanks for commenting and for the attaboy.
      When I first posted the crash audio and story, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was afraid the page might draw disaster-as -entertainment types a la “National Enquirer.” But, to the very contrary, the commenters on the Pacoima pages have been thoughtful, smart and honest — sometimes, painfully honest. These pages have become a labor of love for me. Actually, very little labor — but a lot of love.
      I’m not sure why you can’t get the audio to play. I just checked it on my iPad and it played fine. If you’re still having difficulty with it, let me know and I’ll talk to WordPress about it.w

      Thanks again, Sheryl. I appreciated your comments.

      Liked by 1 person

  70. Russ, I just tried again and was able to play the clip with no trouble. I didn’t have a WordPress account at the time I was trying to listen last week. Maybe that was the problem, because I opened an account to post here and then today, I was able to access the clip easily.

    The clip is quite sobering. Thanks again for sharing it and for sharing your family’s experience. You are providing a valuable piece of history to your childhood community.

    In this age of snark and quick (but rarely quick-witted) online posts, your blog is a gem. I read every word from every poster and I feel as if I know you. Your dad–wherever he is–must be very proud of you, because it’s clear that you hold gently and carefully the hearts of those who experienced this event.

    God bless you and all those who visit here.

    Sheryl

    Like

  71. Nicholas Beck says:

    Thank you for posting this remarkable, memorable recording and retelling of the events on that fateful day. Thank you.

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi, Nicholas –
      Thank you for the thank you. Although hosting these Pacoima pages has turned out to be a labor of love and learning experience for me, I truly appreciate the thanks.

      RB

      Like

  72. im a 6 grader it is hauned

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Maya –
      Thanks for writing. Yes, it is haunting. Are you going to go to Pacoima when you get out of sixth grade or is sixth grade now in middle school? It’s been a while since I was in the LA school system. About 110 years, I think.

      RB

      Like

  73. Albert Broussard says:

    I saw a photo of a kid (student?) dressed in a white suit walking through the crash site with his head down holding what looks like a violin case as persons stand in the background against the fence (on Terra Bella St.). It appears the kid is walking toward the school? Does anyone know who this kid is? Perhaps he was on his way to a memorial service at the school. Clearly this photo was taken a few weeks after the crash. I find it interesting that he is walking solo through the crash site. Appreciate any comments.

    Like

  74. Danny says:

    Thanks for sharing, Russ. It’s crazy how she just said “we have one life to live” right before it happened.

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hey, Danny –

      Yeah. When I first heard the audio, that phrase, “We have one life to live,” jumped out at me — almost seemed like a premonition. Thanks for commenting.

      Like

  75. Bob Stukey says:

    I was a student at Beachy Avenue School that day of 1/31/1957. Our class heard a big boom and looking East we could see a large black cloud rising. We were still in the classroom and the teacher must have been scared to death. I was 6 years old at that time and I still have my class photos of May 1956 and 1957 if anyone is interested. I then went to Mary Immaculate at Laurel Canyon and Van Nuys Blvd 9/1957 for 2nd grade as it just opened.

    Like

  76. Dan Bergmen says:

    I live in Ukiah, California now (see post above about me witnessing the crash while in the 2nd grade at Strathern Street Elementary School).

    I rarely get to southern California but I will be in the area on June 4 and June 5. I plan to visit the site, hopefully in the afternoon of June 4. I have never been there, this will be a first for me. This is something I have been meaning to do for decades and now I will actually be able to do this.

    Dan

    Like

  77. Jerry says:

    Hey Monk is there a way to email you then?

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Jerry – Wish I could help you contact Monk, but all I know about him is that he submitted this piece a few years ago and he agreed to let me post it. Good luck.

      Like

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