“Eyewitness to the Carnage” – A Personal Account of the 1957 Pacoima Crash

Posted: February 12, 2012 in Pacoima Air Crash, Pacoima Jr. High School Air Crash
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Submitted by Monk

I was an eyewitness to the carnage. I lived on Bonanza St, just two blocks from Pacoima Junior High School. I was only seven 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 the 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.

[The above account is a companion piece to “Pacoima Jr. High School Airplane Crash of 1957 (audio recording as it happened)”]
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Comments
  1. I was there too. I was 8 and was a student at Terra Bella. My class had just returned from a field trip to a dairy, (It was the second grade). We were walking in line toward our classroom with the bungalows between us and Pacoima Jr. High. I saw the two planes collide in mid-air. There was a blue flash. Seconds later I heard a loud “boom” and saw a cloud of black smoke rising from the ground. I panicked and ran away toward the opposite side of the school. When I reached the fence, I turned around and walked back to my classroom. I recall it was the last one in the row. There was no one there. I went inside, and there was a hole in the roof, and a part of the plane, I think it was an engine, in the room. There were broken desks and bottles of milk. I went to find some people, and I ended up at the kindergarten area, near the front of the school. I had to wait there until it was time for me to walk home. I normally walked to school. We lived 3 or 4 blocks from the school. My Mom didn’t come get me because she didn’t know what happened. What happened was that a military jet and a cargo plane collided. The cargo plane crashed into the Jr High gym field. The jet landed in the mountains. This is the plane crash that is referred to as happening at the junior high where Richie Valens went. The way the showed it in the film is wrong, the plane came straight down from very high up.

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    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Carolyn –

      Thanks for your perspective of that tragic day. It is stunning how everyone who witnessed the event remembers what they saw in such vivid detail — over 50 years later — right down to things like “broken desks and bottles of milk.” That had to be a very frightening experience for a little gal.

      At the bottom of the story on this page, click on “Pacoima Jr. High School Airplane Crash of 1957 (audio recording as it happened)” This is my personal account of the crash and an audio recording of the actual crash, recorded in the Pacoima Jr. High auditorium during graduation exercises.

      Let me guess — the dairy your class went to see was the one on Laurel? The one you could smell for miles around. What was it called — Jessup or ??? As a kid, I used to love the idea of having a million cows nearby.

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      • harlen says:

        so sad..

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      • caruthes says:

        I think you are right about where the dairy was. I don’t recall ever seeing any other dairies in the San Fernando Valley. Thankfully I didn’t see the horror. I only saw the collision between the two planes and heard the boom when the larger plane landed and saw the cloud of black smoke rising from the ground. I sometimes think it was more than a coincidence that my class was not in the room when it happened. That maybe God had other plans for me. I’m pretty sure, base on what I saw in the classroom that if we had been there, some of us would have been hurt or killed.
        I don’t have a fear of flying, and I don’t believe I have any lasting trauma from the crash.

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      • Roger Palmer says:

        The dairy was Roger Jessup Dairy on the corner of Branford and Laurel Canyon. I believe the coach on the field was “Vadarian” (but I’m not certain about the name)

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  2. Sean Sherrod says:

    Hello,
    I drive by this school weekly on my way to church in Porter Ranch and I still haven’t been able to figure out which direction came in from. Was it East to West, North to South, etc.??? Right now the 5 fwy is under major consruction and they have torn down the sound barrier walls used to block out excessive fwy noise. So now once again you can see the entire school yard. Thanks for your help.

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    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Sean –

      The only info about the direction of the DC-7’s descent I could find was the following, from a site called Jaydeebee: “With a portion of its left wing now gone and while raining debris onto the neighborhoods below, the DC-7B momentarily continued westbound, then rolled to the left and began a steepening, high-velocity dive earthward.” The Times and other local papers said essentially the same thing. I hope this helps.

      RB

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  3. john fierro says:

    i heard of that crash when i was a kid in the early eightees. its so amazing you having your fathers recording. thank you for the real history on that russell.

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    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hey John –

      You’re welcome, John. There have been so many fascinating responses to this — I wish I had posted it earlier. Thanks for dropping by.

      RB

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  4. […] informative first-hand account by an individual who arrived at the school minutes after the crash, (Eyewitness to the Carnage – A Personal Account of the 1957 Pacoima Crash) go to Craving Sense by Russ Buchanan: […]

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  5. Joseph Nitti says:

    I was on the gym field that day. When I first saw the plane, it was about 200 feet high. It came from the southeast and I was facing the airplane. I don’t know why I ran towards it, but that saved my life. All the debris passed me. One small piece of metal hit me in my right ankle. We lived one block from the school and I ran straight home. I still remember to this day when I look back at the gym field, just after the plane crashed all I could see was black smoke and some fire. And boys running and crying — some crying for their mothers.

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    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Joseph –

      I can’t begin to imagine the terror you and your schoolmates must have felt that day. It does seem that running toward the descending plane saved your life. Another commenter to the story remembered doing the same thing. He also pointed out that some kids who ran away from the DC-7 were seriously injured after the plane exploded.

      Thank you for sharing your memories — painful as they must be.

      Russ Buchanan

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      • karen bakken maxwell says:

        HI RUSS, DO YOU EVER THINK OF PUBLISHING ALL THE DATA THAT YOU HAVE COLLECTED AND OFFERING IT ON YOUR WEB SITE IN BOOK FORM, I KNOW I WOULD BE INTERESTED, KIND OF A LINK TO OLD FRIENDS REMEMBERING, I KNOW I WOULD LIKE TO FIND SOME OF MY OLD FRIENDS, MAYBE THIS WOULD BE A LINK, I HAVE RESPONDED TO YOUR LINK BEFORE AND CERTIANLY ENJOY READING THE NEW ENTRIES. , I WAS IN THE AUDITORIUM AS MY BROTHER WAS PRACTICING THE GRADUATION CEREMONY. THANK YOU KAREN(BAKKEN) MAXWELL.

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      • Russ Buchanan says:

        Hi again, Karen –

        Actually, the answer is no — I haven’t thought about publishing it in E-book form. But I think you’re on to something. The response to “Pacoima Jr. High School Airplane Crash of 1957…” and this personal account by “Monk” has been enormous. When I first posted the story and recording, I was afraid it would mainly attract people looking to get a few kicks from hearing the sound of a huge airplane crashing into a school full of kids. Although thrill seekers undoubtedly account for some of the site’s visitors, I’ve found the folks who have commented on the post — people like you — to be reasoned,serious and articulate. Their emotional and psychological candor, plus their ability to relate those feelings in words makes me very glad that I posted it. Who knows — a few more comments and an E-book could be a future project.

        Good to hear from you again,

        RB

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  6. The last words of co-pilot Archie Twitchell have been related except for a comment he made to the pilot: “I told you we should bring parachutes”

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    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hey Robert –

      Yes, I did read that somewhere. I guess this had become a bit of a hot topic back then. Crews of test or experimental flights were beginning to demand chutes — who could blame them? I haven’t a clue why they weren’t equipped with parachutes in the first place. Of course, I also have a hard time understanding why it was OK to fly tests over a highly populated area.

      Thanks for your contribution,

      RB

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  7. 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 Beechy 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 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 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 a 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.

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    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Lotus,

      Yes, the pilots of both aircraft were killed. There were no ejection seats in the DC 7. The military jet did have ejection capacity but the pilot of that plane didn’t use it. His radar man did and lived.

      Hey, we might have been in the same kindergarten class at Beachy – I was five, too. I think my teacher’s name was Aldritch. Don’t ask me why I remember that.

      Thanks for commenting,

      RB

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      • Bronya Feldmann says:

        My uncle was the pilot of the Scorpion. He didn’t jump like his navigator did, because according to the navigator, he thought he could steer the crashing plane away from the schoolyard if he stayed with it. Which he did. He was a hero. We all loved him a lot and it was an awful day for my aunt and all of us.

        Unfortunately, some people really criticized the navigator, because he jumped and let my uncle save the plane by himself. However, my uncle probably told him to jump. He was an old Navy flyer from WWII and a real professional.

        I was almost 7 and my mother picked me up from grammar school in LA to drive out to Palmdale where the rest of the family was converging at my aunt’s house. She was so hysterical that a doctor made a house call and gave her an injected sedative to knock her out. Probably, they wouldn’t do that today.

        The pain everyone felt is still vivid in my mind from the time.

        I never knew all the details about the poor children killed. I was shielded at that time from that level of information.

        Bronya Feldmann

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      • Russ Buchanan says:

        Hi Bronya –

        One of the truly rewarding aspects of this story and recording is responses like yours — riveting accounts by people who were not only there, but who were very personally affected by the Pacoima tragedy.

        Yes, by all accounts your uncle’s actions on that day were heroic. Had Roland Owen not stayed aboard to guide his jet, the death and injury toll could have — and likely would have — been higher. Regarding your uncle’s radar man, Curtiss Adams: from what I know of the crash, Adams was correct to have bailed out. There was nothing he could have done to improve the situation — staying on board the doomed craft would only have resulted in one more fatality. Fortunately, no one on these pages has criticized Adams. Incidentally, a few years after the crash, Adams became a mentor to Terry Brown, one of the kids seriously injured in the crash. Terry also happens to be a commenter on this page.

        That must have been one very scary day for you — at seven, no less. I’m sure those events — especially your aunt’s anguish — are etched into your memory forever.

        Thank you for writing,

        RB

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      • Bronya Feldmann says:

        Hi Russ,
        I think it was my Uncle Rol’s sister who made the remark about Curtis.
        You have to take into account that when people are prostrate in grief, often they think, ‘Why did my loved one have to die? Why didn’t so-in-so die instead?’ It isn’t well thought out or logical. It isn’t very nice. It’s just a very primal reaction to the incomprehensible, the unbearable, and the unacceptable.
        The selflessness of his last meaningful act on this Earth was both comforting on one level and also agonizing on another, because it elevated him even more in their minds and made their loss greater.

        I’m glad to know that Curtis found peace by becoming a mentor to a child or children who had suffered that day. I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t also feel some guilt even if it was illogical. That often happens with survivors of a tragedy.

        I respected my uncle, although we were not close. We lived in LA quite a distance from them. The most fun I had with him was when he took me fishing on a reservoir or lake at dawn with a buddy of his when I was six. We caught a ton of trout and from that day forth I wanted to fish every time I saw a body of water! Someone even gave me a box of lures, but I never knew what to do with them. My uncle was a great influence for a little tomboy. Too bad he didn’t live to take me fishing again.

        They referred to him as “a man’s man.” He had I think been an Eagle Scout–friendly and helpful to both sexes. He’d been a WWII fighter pilot. He married a gorgeous girl, always liked to drive a new car, and they had only recently adopted a baby boy.

        When he was killed, I have to say that I had few emotions. Everyone else seemed to have enough emotions for me and multitudes beyond, so I just went into myself and observed, as I often did out of self-preservation. It was shocking, of course. But, it was just as shocking to watch all of these people lose it, drink a lot of booze, and lose it some more. I was glad when we returned to Los Angeles and I could go back to my normal life.

        I had a dream about my uncle’s death the night before the crash. The only thing I recall is the image of a florist’s shop. Perhaps we were buying flowers for his funeral.

        I didn’t think much of it until after the event. I didn’t become spooked, but thought of it as a coincidence at the time. Now, I don’t think it was.

        I also heard a news report about the crash on the radio at day care before I knew my mother was coming to pick me up. I remember thinking idly that it might be my Uncle Rol. But, I don’t think that that was with any sort of premonition. I think that was just childish musing. The dream was however in another category.

        Bronya

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  8. Here it is 2012 and we are still talking about it. As I understand it, the collision took off the outer section of the wing…beyond the outside engine. After reading about ww2 bombers landing safely after similiar damage..and worse…it seen possible the plane could have been landed safely. What probably happened is that hydraulic lines that moved control surfaces were severed and the plane lost all control due to no more hydraulic pressure. Right after the collision, a grey vapor or smoke came from the wing…but, no fire. The disintegration of the plane on the way down has to be from extreme stress by falling at tremendous speed. What caused the plane to explode at the last few seconds is a mystery. The gas tanks must have ruptured and the still running motors probably set it off. I was in Glendale when it happened.

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  9. Phyllis Randall says:

    I had gym that terrible day. My 7th grade classmates were on the field. At my 50th HSClass reunion last April, many of those “boys” we’re there and the topic was inevitably the plane crash at .Pacoima Jr. High. It happens every reunion, the bond is so strong they can’t help but remember it together. Every reunion I hear a new story of a heroic act by one of the teachers.

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    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Phyllis,

      Do you remember any of the teachers’ names and what they did? In all the comments here, very few of the faculty have been mentioned.

      Thanks for commenting,

      RB

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  10. I was in gym class on that day in 1957, I have little recollection about the direction of the planes approach, everything happened in a non space/time circumstance- stress makes perception go haywire, but I have a few vivid fragments from the event- i remember the cuffs of my jacket were melted and my jacket was gone- there was a feeling of total immersion in violence that was beyond anything I had experienced. I was in Valley hospital for seven weeks and was able to rejoin the semester in early april. Basically I think a bunch of kids got a heavy dose of PTSD and no one really did anything about it, because you were supposed to suck it up, tough it out etc etc. I wish someone would do a serious interview with the survivors to see how everyone coped.

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    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Richard,
      Man, what a day that was for you. Melting cuffs — that’s an experience very few have lived through. Interestingly, the brother of one of your friends back then, Richard Bliven, wrote a couple days ago about visiting you in the hospital. Seven weeks — you must have been in pretty bad shape.

      Yeah, regarding PTSD — with very few exception, the comments here show that this event was permanently etched into the psyches of just about every kid who witnessed the tragedy — even a few who were only peripherally involved. From slight fear of flying, to running for cover at the slightest noise, to deep psychological scars and nightmares continuing to this day, the comments run the gamut. I suppose, that’s what I find so fascinating about the reaction to this post and recording — the sheer number of people affected so deeply by the crash.

      Thanks again,

      RB

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    • Hey Richard. Congratulations on a great career. I was there too but was unable to return to school until September. I certainly have spent my life with PTSD. Only noticed this posting tonight. I retired from the LA County District Attorney in 2007. I guess we lived to tell about it. I should note that for an explosion of that magnitude, just Mike Galasso, you and I were critically burned. After my 1957 surgeries I returned for additional surgeries in the summers of 1958 and 1959. We still carry the scars of that crash with us in many ways.

      Russ, say hello to Pam for me.

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      • Russ Buchanan says:

        Hi Wallace – Pam will probably see your “hi” — she always reads the new comments here. But I’ll make sure she hears it from me too. Thanks for commenting — RB

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  11. I was in the auditorium practicing for our graduation.Ours was the first class to graduate from Pacoima Jr. High…I had know Linda Luttrell since 2nd grade and am really trying to get in touch.If any of you out there know where she is I would appreciate an email or something.Mine is
    halesplace@frontier.com (Lana Brosamle)Hale. Was a day I will never forget.I think because some of us in the auditorium were sent out a side door into a gated area we didn’t see the planes ,or injured, or bodies at the time.All I knew was the horrible noise,screams. parents running, sirens screaming.My brother was next door in the grade school and I was worried about him too. When I finally got out of there I remember running home.Lived on Osborne St. It was quite a few blocks and it seemed all the people in the world were running towards the school while I was running against the tide…Crying and pushing through all the hysterical people.No one eveerr came and spoke to us about what happend and we had to go thru with the graduation as planned…The press was all over the place that day pushing mics into our faces,it was awful awful awful!I guess in my mind I didn’t relate to the planes just the horrible noise and panic..To this day a loud sudden noise of any kind makes me jump and my heart races…My brother is a therapist and I shared my reaction to the horrible audio with him recently and how surprised I was at myselfe…He said I have PTS and hearing that noise after all these years just set it off, the same as it does for our soldiers….I imagine many of us who went thru that suffer from the same thing……Re: Linda, I’m also on face book…..One good thing came out of that tradgedy.At the time there were only two small hospitals in the area.My grandparents along with many others starting a fund to build a new hospital.After much time and hard work the Pacoima Memorial Luthran Hospital was built…Odd but true..Years later all 3 of my children were born there.I understand its been torn down now,why I don’t know..
    Regards, Lana (Brosamle) Hale

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  12. Jane Decker says:

    On this Monday after a very sad weekend I recall my experience with the Pacoima crash. I was in second grade. We were in reading circle and we began to hear the plane coming towards us. As it got louder my teacher jumped up, screamed its an atom bomb and left the room. We soon followed her and I would have kept running except someone had locked the gate. I remember seeing mothers with babies crying for their children. I guess we were ushered back to our room because after what seemed like hours my father found me there. I have no other recollection of second grade. I now can only imagine what those young children in Conneticut are feeling. Perhaps with tragedy those parents and families will work towards preventing more tragedy just like our mothers in Pacoima did.

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    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Jane –

      Screamed “It’s an atom bomb” and then she left the room??? Well, at least she identified the problem before leaving her young charges to fend for themselves. Wow, not one of the more heroic tales of that day.

      Yes, what Pacoima parents and other concerned citizens were able to accomplish with their demand to end test flights over populous areas is an object lesson in what average joes and Josephines can accomplish with the government when determined.

      I too hope that the Newtown parents are able to lead this country to a new era. They will be taking on the NRA and its politicians — it will be a long, hard fight.

      Thanks for commenting, Jane

      Russ Buchanan

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      • HI, Russ: I am a stray cat in this litter. I commented on the crash about Co-pilot saying “We should have brought chutes> I was at Glendale High when it happened. After graduation, I went to work for the LA water and power as a lineman helper. Our area covered all of that area where PJH was. I have worked on just about every street mentioned by contributers. I just looked up your profile with pic and aside of being a good looking man, your expression looks like you would be hard to fool! Your being a political writer is the main reason I am writing to you. If you want to get a profile of the mentality or lack there of, read all the posts on Gun Control. There is a good segment of society that has a very skewed thinking apparatus. I think there is a possibility that the lunatic fringe of Gun Controlers, might pull a reverse and go on shooting rampages in order to bolster their point and punish the NRA. Already an event up in New York…Four firemen shot..two dead. . The America we knew when we were kids is not going away; it has gone away. Only a few shreds of the old school..left ..which school I so loved. Where did you grow up? I was born in Tulsa, Okla but parents moved to Glendale when I was 5 back in 1944. I remember camaflauge netting over San Fernando Road. We lived two blocks North of Grand Central Airport and as a kid, i loved going there and watching the war planes being overhauled. The sky was filled with propeller craft of all kinds and I loved looking up at night and seeing the blue flaring of the exhausts…No sound like a ww2 fighter. Hope you and family have a great Christmas. Remember how spindly the Tress were back then..? Bob Fishback – Tulsa, (Moved back here in 1960).

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      • Russ Buchanan says:

        Hiya Robert –

        Thanks for your “stray cat in this litter” (that made me chuckle) contribution.

        I had a feeling that Jane’s comment about guns and my response to her would provoke more gun commentary. Although I’d rather the Pacoima Crash section of “Craving Sense” not veer off into politics — lord knows the rest of the blog has enough — I do want to respond to your commentary.

        I’ve written a lot about guns and gun policy and heard from many people on both sides of the issue. Perhaps more than any other policy debate, the argument over gun control has been hijacked by a small-though-very loud group of extremists who drown out the reasonable folk. A tiny fraction of gun control supporters want all firearms banned and see all gun owners as a bunch of Neanderthal rednecks. A larger percentage of the pro-gun group — though small, compared to the millions of gun owners — believes there should be zero regulation of guns and that ALL supporters of gun control are gun-snatching lunatics, who would stoop to anything (including your novel idea of staged shootings, I guess(?)) to win the argument. To make matters worse, we’ve got the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre stoking the fires of fanaticism with every poisonous word he utters.

        As a sometime skeet shooter and plinker, I have nothing against guns, per se — although I do find the kind of gun zealotry found in the pages of “Soldier of Fortune” -type rags and in the minds of a few gun owners to be infantile and revealingly over-compensating. A gun is simply a tool — an extremely dangerous one. Personally, I won’t have a gun in my home because statistics consistently show that it is far more likely that my trusty six-shooter will put a hole in me or a member of my family than the body of a marauder. However, if my neighbor wants a .38 caliber hazard in his house, he should have the freedom to do so. On the legislative front, I believe all large-capacity magazines should be outlawed, all gun-show loopholes closed, all handguns registered and Wayne LaPierre exiled to Greenland.

        Anyhow, thanks for commenting again, Robert. Your comments are always stimulating.

        Russ Buchanan

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      • Jane Decker says:

        I definately agree with you. I didn’t mean to inject politics. Just felt that a tragedy at a school is something to reflect on – just as our mothers did then

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      • Russ Buchanan says:

        Hi Jane –

        Actually, I found your comment from a few days ago insightful and, in a way, touching. Hoping that the Newtown parents are able to channel their grief and anger into a successful drive for change — just as the Pacoima parents did in ’57 — transcends politics, I think. Anyhow, as it turns out, I am the one who brought politics into this thread. Upon re-reading your comment I see you didn’t actually mention guns, only preventing another tragedy. It was I, your knee-jerk liberal blogger, who brought up the NRA and guns. Mea Culpa — mea maxima culpa!

        Thanks for writing, Jane

        Russ

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      • Jane: What is Mea Culpa? Is that a bone in the leg. We went out for Italian Food last night…Maybe we ate Mea Culpa….I am insecure when I com with ladies smarter than I am…

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      • Russ: In short, I agree with all you said. All the continuous blabber re guns convinces me that motives from most are not informitive, but just to argue with…any body. I have listened many times to the recording of crash. Several things are curious. There are several loud reports aside from the screaming sound. One of those sounds sounds like a door being slammed against a wall. It was chilly that day, and I doubt a door was left open. The concussion wave moved against the Aud. If that sound was a door, it must have been open.There is a huge amount of wreckage both on church grounds and the playground. It took a few seconds for all major impacts to take place, and there must have been a loud “roar” for a longer time than the quick several bangs on the recording. I have no doubt the tape is legit..just curiuous. Some accounts say the plane came pretty much straight down, yet one pic has drawn in arrows showing path of descent to be angled and not straight down. The pic of the grounds after wreckage cleared shows one major burn area and several more narrow burned paths. I don’t know what this tells unless indicitive of where spilled gasolene.went. I was not there and still I get traumatized by reading again the People’s memories of that event. I find your writing is also stimulating. If you want a challenging thought, suppose you were on the field one minute before impact, what would you say or do? Thanks for response. Bob

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  13. It seems my life in this regard is a series of after thoughts. Re the crash, it is impressive to think that just a few seconds in either pilots decisions could have prevented that crash. The moment each pilot took off, the moment that each re-directed the plane’s path. Both planes assigned 25,000 feet. Just fifty feet off by either pilot and it would not have happened. You are a writer and perhaps you touch on science fiction or fantasy. Now here is really a strange thought. If you could stop time and view just one frame of a movie..stop the movie when an airliner such as the Psa crash in San Dego, was one foot off the ground. Stop the movie. The nose of plane is one foot from impact. Supposing you could enter the plane and look at all the people and what they looked like. To go from nose to tail, you would have to climb a ladder of seats. Suppose the sound in that plane was frozen in time and you could hear it…What would you hear…the combined voices of terror singing like a choir all off key….To me, that Alaskan crash into the Pacific was very traumatic. Some one failed to lube the jack screw for the tail control and it galled to the point that it just jumped cogs. With the horrendous forces envolved in the Pacoima crash, you just know there are still metal fragments down in the ground. This is too morbid for me….over and out..b

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  14. Teresa Phillips says:

    This message is from my friend, JIM KEAGY:
    In the classroom where I was, about 3 classrooms away from the gardening class (and that class was just next to the church), I wasn’t aware of the day or time. Across the street at my little league manager’s house…days after the crash, there was a reminder where part of the fuselage had fallen into coach Gordan’s yard, it didn’t heal all summer or even into winter. That’s all I could remember was that great big split in the front yard . But that day…with that sound and the trembling ground, all came back to me after hearing the tape on January 20th, 2013.
    I remember looking out the door of the classroom and seeing a boy covered with oil, walking up to the nurses’ office. And then the classroom emptied to go outside. I’m sure it was against the teacher’s will. Confetti was raining down all over the boy covered in oil. The teacher yelled at us to get back inside where we got under our chairs. But it was too late…if it had been a bomb, it would have been too late.
    On January 20, 2013, I also heard a story from my mom about our neighbor (Mrs. Beauregard), a frantic mother dodging broken power lines that were dancing on the ground as she was leaping towards the fence to get to the schoolyard to find her son, Larry. My dad had scooped up my little brother Kelly and was already on the field where my poor little brother had witnessed all the carnage and bodies as my dad tried to find me…but I was in the library by then.
    My brother Pat found this site and the recording on the date listed above and shared it with me. We’ve had many discussions about that day and the events…but more than anything we remember that noise. It’s amazing that SO many of us have suddenly gone back to relive that day after hearing the tape.

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Teresa –

      Thank you for sending along Jim’s account of that day.

      As a Pacoima alumnus myself (mid-1960s), I know exactly where the gardening building and garden are and how close Jim’s class was to the horror unfolding on the gym field. Whenever I read stories like Jim’s I immediately begin thinking about the capricious nature of disasters and the role luck plays. Like a tornado demolishing houses on one side of the street but leaving the other side untouched, the Pacoima crash could have been so much worse. If the engine that fell through the roof of the church (my family’s church, by the way) had crashed through the roof of the gardening building instead — well, you can imagine.

      Again, thanks for writing and thank Jim for me,

      Russ Buchanan

      Like

  15. Sharon Earwood says:

    I was in kindergarten that day…remember my Mom running into the class and yanking me up (I thought I really did it this time!) My brother was suppose to be on the field that day, but didn’t want to go to school…what a blessing!

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Sharon –

      I’m glad your brother stayed home that day. I’ll bet my sister and dad wished they’d done the same. In fact, my sister had just gotten off the field when the plane came down. Quirks of fate, as you say, can be a blessing… sometimes.

      Thanks for commenting,

      RB

      Like

  16. donraymedia says:

    My two cousins were at the school that day — the older one, Ross McFarland, was in the auditorium. I was in elementary school in Sun Valley and we could see the Air Force radar man coming down in the parachute. The fire from the jet crash was burning in the hills above our school. We could see the smoke from the Junior High School.

    Today, I head up a non-profit organization called “The Endangered History Project” where we do video oral histories of people who have either lived a long time or who experienced something like the 1957 crash. I’ve read that many of the injured kids still meet up every so often.

    We’re in Burbank and we’re eager to do projects like this. If anyone is interested, please contact me or look at http://www.wordpress.com/endangeredhistory or http://www.wordpress.com/oralhistoryinstitute. My e-mail address is donray@donray.com. My phone is (818) 237-3728.

    It’s chilling to read your accounts and hear Mr. Buchanan’s audio. Thanks for sharing them. We also publish books — just in case people thought there was room for one.

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Don –

      Thanks for writing.

      You and your classmates had a panoramic view of the tragedy’s components and I’ll bet that view was etched in every one of those kid’s brains at that moment. I’ve heard the tape a zillion times and it still chills me to the bone — I can only imagine what it must have sounded like to your cousin Ross, who was there in the auditorium.

      Interestingly enough, because of the widespread interest in these accounts and the audio, I’ve been working on a book about the crash, myself. The way this event impacted people’s lives — all their lives — is the most fascinating part of the crash.

      Thanks again for your comment,

      Russ Buchanan

      Like

      • Don Ray says:

        Great news, Russell. If you’re going to do the interviews anyway, by allowing us to do PBS-quality video interviews, you’ll have the best quotes ever — and it will make for a great documentary. We’re happy to pitch in.

        Like

      • Russ Buchanan says:

        Hey Don –

        That sounds terrific. When I get to that point, I’ll let you know.
        Incidentally, I checked out your page — really good work. It reminded me of when — about 15 years ago — I began to record me parent’s life stories in their own words. Sadly, we only got six or seven sessions recorded before I got too busy to carry on and we never started again. However, visiting your page reminded me of those tapes, so I braved the black widow and rodent-festival I call my garage, found the cassettes, and listened to them. Having lost my dad seven years ago and two years ago my mom, those tapes have become more valuable to me than I could have ever imagined.

        Thanks for reminding me,

        Russ Buchanan

        Like

      • donraymedia says:

        Thanks so much for the kind message. I’m so glad that you found the tapes you made of your father. The next step is to digitize the tapes. As you know, there’s a short shelf-life for audio cassettes. This is something that our organization would love to do for you at no cost. We have the equipment and the expertise to turn your tapes into high-quality audio files and then put them on CDs or DVDs for you — and, of course, give you the actual digital files.

        I have been doing this with oral history interviews I did many, many years ago. As it turns out, there are a couple of generations that have come along since I first shared the audio tapes. I’m able to send the interview to the grandchildren of the people I interviewed way back when.

        Eventually, The Endangered History Project, Inc., will be conducting free training seminars so that people can do the oral history interviews themselves; preserve old tapes, videos, film, photographs and written material; and place copies in safe places.

        Please don’t be shy about accepting our offer.

        Keep up the great work!

        Warmly,

        Don Ray

        Like

  17. Martie says:

    For some reason I pulled up Pacoima Plane Crash…..I was in the auditorium when the doors blew open …..it was fashionable to wear boyfriends jackets….plaster fell from the ceiling leaving white powder on the jacket. A day to remember. Richard Valenswella (Richie Vallens) would join our group each morning and we’d all walk to school….I still have a black and white photo of David Jones, Mark Boone and Richie singing at school, Richie went on to San Fernando High and became the star he deserved to be. After the plane crash we couldn’t go to school, so we had “garage parties.” Interesting that I obtained my private pilots license and work as a flight attendant……amazing to remember so many years ago…..

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Martie –

      How interesting that flying became an important part of your life. Many who were there that day developed a lifelong fear of flying — but you became a pilot.

      Thank you for your account of life in 50’s Pacoima. Those garage parties sound like a great way to spend the day.

      RB

      Like

  18. Harvey M. Tow says:

    Hi, Russ-
    I happen to be a collector of old-radio programs. I recently came across a recording from CBS RADIO WORKSHOP entitled: “Heaven Is In The Sky” from 5.19.57. Its an accounting of the plane crash at Pacoima Jr. High. It’s approx. 25 mins. long.
    If you’re interested in a copy on CD I’d be happy to mail it to you.

    Harvey

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Harvey –

      Wow, how intriguing. I’ve never even heard of this program and I would love to take you up on your generous offer. I will email you with my address and further unbridled gratitude.

      Russ

      Like

      • Harvey Tow says:

        Russ- Here’s a link as to the history of “CBS Radio Workshop.” Harvey

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CBS_Radio_Workshop

        ** > Russ Buchanan commented: “Hi Harvey – Wow, how intriguing. I’ve never > even heard of this program and I would love to take you up on your generous > offer. I will email you with my address and further unbridled gratitude. > Russ”

        Like

    • Don Ray says:

      Hey Harvey. Our non-profit, The Endangered History Project, Inc., is all about preserving all forms of media. Is there any way that we could also hear that radio report or get a copy? Also do you have other recordings of radio programs from the past? If so, can we talk? 🙂

      Thanks.

      Don Ray
      Executive Director
      The Endangered History Project, Inc.
      A tax-exempt not-for-profit educational organization

      Like

      • Harvey Tow says:

        Hi, Don- I’ve been a collector of old-radio broadcasts since the mid-60s and have several thousand old-radio programs in my collection. Lately, I’ve been digitizing my analog tapes and 16″ electrical transcription discs, storing them in my computer, with backup, of course. It was recently that I came across the “CBS Radio Workshop” which contained the story of the airplane crashes. If you’d like a copy of the program, please send me a mailing address. I’m happy to share it with you.

        Harvey

        On Sun, Jun 30, 2013 at 1:02 AM, Russ Buchanan wrote:

        > ** > Don Ray commented: “Hey Harvey. Our non-profit, The Endangered History > Project, Inc., is all about preserving all forms of media. Is there any way > that we could also hear that radio report or get a copy? Also do you have > other recordings of radio programs from the past? If s” >

        Like

      • Don Ray says:

        Don Ray
        The Endangered History Project, Inc.
        1508-B W. Magnolia Blvd.
        Burbank, CA 91506
        (818) 237-3728

        Thanks very much! I’d sure like to know about the other programs you have. There’s some stuff I’ve been looking for. Best to you.

        Like

      • Harvey M. Tow says:

        Hi, Don-
        I haven’t heard from you. Have you rec’d the CD? What’s your take?

        Like

  19. It is a strange thought, but t
    \he chances are very good that with all the pieces raining down, there are probably quite a few still in the ground,,untouched for 57 years…

    Like

  20. gary rabbitt says:

    Thanks Russ for these pages. I was 2 yrs/4 months old at the time, but I clearly remember mom and my aunt taking me to the site. We walked along the playground fence on the east side of the school. At the time, I didn’t know what was happening. A few years after I figured it all out.
    I remember mom telling my aunt “they are using school benches for stretchers”. Didn’t make sense to me at that age though. We lived on Haddon at the time so I was probably in the stroller. We walked along the fence to the end, then back about 2 times. Walking through weeds, no one else was in that area. Supposedly, my aunt saved a piece of the wreckage, I never saw it though.
    There was a house across the street that sustained damage from part of a wing. Cut a large gouge from the front. In later months, it was ‘repaired’ and had a rock fireplace installed where he damage was. That evidence of the crash remained until at least the 1980s The house still stands looking on Google Maps, although the front has been totally remodeled.
    That’s the connection I have to the horrible crash, so sad the course of events.Thank goodness there was not a larger loss of life that day. May the victims rest in peace.
    Gary.

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Gary –

      Thanks for writing. Your mention of it is the first I’ve heard of the emergency responders using benches as stretchers. That they needed to do that shows the level of the carnage on the field. What a sight for such young eyes.

      RB

      Like

      • Harvey Tow says:

        Thanks, Russ= Keep ’em coming… h

        On Thu, Sep 5, 2013 at 12:46 PM, Russ Buchanan wrote:

        > ** > Russ Buchanan commented: “Hi Gary – Thanks for writing. Your mention of > it is the first I’ve heard of the emergency responders using benches as > stretchers. That they needed to do that shows the level of the carnage on > the field. What a sight for such young eyes. RB ” >

        Like

  21. CharlesR says:

    Hi Russ –

    While having no direct connection to the tragedy, I do live in the Valley, and work in San Fernando (at the site of what used to be the SF airport), and not far from where my grandparents lived, who also ran the Fox Malt Shop on Brand Blvd in SF in the late 40’s- early 50’s (hoping some day to find someone who remembers the shop).

    A friend of mine recently was in Iowa and visited the Surf Ballroom (site of Richie, Buddy & Big Bopper’s final concert) and the crash site memorial near Clear Lake, and this week brought over photos, etc. for me. Coincidentally, when trolling eBay the other day for San Fernando relics as I do from time to time, I came across this item (see link), an actual press photo from the school yard in Pacoima.

    http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=161109775484

    I then Googled the Pacoima tragedy for more information (remembering its depiction in La Bamba), and came across your blog. Thank you and your contributors for such insight into that fateful day, and this many years later, our hearts go out to those lost and those still affected by events of that day.

    Charles

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Charles –

      Thanks for your input.

      Yes, I am so grateful to the commenters on these pages for giving my readers and me real insight into what happened that day. These thoughtful, often painful recollections have given visitors to this site eyewitness accounts of history and honest, personal glimpses into lives forever changed by the Pacoima crash.

      Though your family’s malt shop was a bit before my time, your mention of Brand Blvd. sure conjured up memories for me. There was a little Mexican food place on Brand (in a shopping center, I think) that had the greatest chile relleno burritos in the universe. Now I can’t stop thinking about those little spicy devils. I wonder if it’s still there.

      RB

      Like

  22. Albert Bodt, M.D. says:

    Here we are 57 years later and the memories of that day are still fresh in my mind.
    My family had just immigrated from Holland, as War refugees, eight months before. We had recently rented a house on Arleta avenue 10 minutes walk from Terra Bella Elementary School.
    I was eight years old, in the 3rd grade, in a classroom in the row of bungalows nearest the small street off Terra Bella.

    At about 11:15 in the morning, my class was about to play Bingo. To this day I still am perplexed about the lesson it was to convey. We were all to seat ourselves along a row of tables, as I vaguely recall, and I needed to get an extra chair, lining the wall. As I returned with the chair to my intended place, I suddenly heard a loud airplane sound, looked out the large window looking north to the Pacoima gym field and observed a large silver colored tubular structure coming down at approximately a 30-35 degree angle. I had no idea what it was, and my first thought was, the Russians are bombing us, having been already thoroughly indoctrinated in the Cold War paranoia that existed, over the previous 8 months since our immigration. The ground shook, as we all ran outside in front of our classroom, when the aircraft impacted. A large fireball rose, visible above the classroom roof, transforming into a large black cloud of acrid smoke that could be smelled almost immediately. Our teacher, I have since forgotten her name, but I bumped into her again, as well as Mrs. Rorig (spelling>?), at Vena Avenue School a year or two later, herded us back inside the classroom, obviously realizing that debris may still be falling and it was unsafe to be outside. Withing minutes, sirens could be heard and several helicopters flew over our classroom all morning. We were allowed to go out for lunch recess and of course we all found lots of little “souvenirs” on the playground, such as pieces of aluminum, fuel lines, hydrolic tubing, rivets, etc. We were soon advised to turn all these into our teacher. All the kids lined up along the common fence with Pacoima Junior High to gaze at the spectacle that was the crash site. We could see several white sheets, that I assumed were bodies. A photograph of all of us standing along the fence can be seen on page 142 of Kevin Roderick’s “The San Fernando Valley-America’s Suburb,
    Los Angeles Times, 2001. On the gym field there was obvious carnage as manifested by the covered bodies. One boy had his leg nearly amputated and bled profusely. Mr. Vardanian, the gym coach at Pacoima Jr High, tied a torniquet around the boys leg and held it for almost an hour until he was transported to the hospital. Mr. Vardanian and I had several conversations about the incident later in the early 1960’s when he was my track coach at John H. Francis Polytechnic, which was built later that year, 1957.

    My mother, a veteran of the German occupation of Holland during the War, which had ended only 10 years 7 months earlier, was used to airplana crashes, as German and Allied planes were frequently shot down in her vicinity, near Amsterdam and Arnhem in the Netherlands. She didn’t drive, so she hopped on a bicycle and made the 5 minute ride to the school. she found that my sister and I were both safe and she rode home again, displaying a certain stoicism that one might expect of someone who had been through five years of war so recently.

    As a result of this tragedy, the lack of emergency services and nearby Emergency Rooms in the Pacoima area, my family doctor, Dr. Chai and others, lobbied for the construction of hospitals in the area, resulting in the construction of Pacoima Memorial Lutheran Hospital, and later the construction of Serra Memorial Hospital (now called Pacifica Hospital).

    After my Navy service in Vietnam in the 60’s. Dr. Chai became one of my close colleagues when I became a doctor, as I was asked to consult on several of his patients as a kidney specialist in the late 80’s at Serra Memorial Hospital. I will be retired soon, having practiced medicine for 33 years.

    Those 57 years seem to have gone by so quickly. The memory of that late morning on January 31, 1957 will remain imprinted in my memory until I die. I frequently think of those kids, 12-13 years old, who perished on the gym field that day, They would be approaching their 70’s now and retired grandparents.

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Albert –

      Yours is one of the most vivid recollections of the crash I’ve read. The detail in your account shows that even after all these years, an event of such magnitude never really fades from memory.

      Thank you,

      RB

      Like

    • Harvey Tow says:

      Really interesting. Thanks for sending. Harvey

      On Mon, Dec 16, 2013 at 3:03 AM, Russ Buchanan wrote:

      > Albert Bodt, M.D. commented: “Here we are 57 years later and the > memories of that day are still fresh in my mind. My family had just > immigrated from Holland, as War refugees, eight months before. We had > recently rented a house on Arleta avenue 10 minutes walk from Terra Bella > Elemen”

      Like

  23. Virginia Ulrich says:

    My husband, Brian Ulrich, was attending Pacoima Junior High School the day of the airplane crash. His family lived on Terra Bella Street. I was attending Clark Junior High School in La Crescenta that day and I remember it very well. We were out on the field and everyone heard the crash. Many friends that I went to school with still remember this day as well. Brian never has forgotten but does not talk about it a lot. He did write a story about what he experienced a few years ago and I believe it was very cathartic for him. Brian was out on the field that day and he remembers one of his friends who walked up to him but apparently he was unrecognizable because of burns. It was only later than Brian knew it was his friend because of the shock. The boy then fell to the ground. When the movie “La Bamba” was released both of us went to see the film. The scene with the airplane over the school yard truly upset my husband. He had tears in his eyes. I don’t believe many people know the significance of that scene because Ritchie Valens actually was not in school then but everyone who was there that day or anywhere near the site would know the meaning behind it. I also know what it meant. Because this is the anniversary of the plane crash in Iowa or “The Day The Music Died” we started thinking about Brian’s childhood and this incident came to mind. Brian served in the Navy on aircraft carriers after high school and also signed up for the Navy Seabee Reserves later on retiring as a Senior Chief-E8. He was recalled to Desert Storm. He still recalls that this time in his life, despite the Navy experiences, was one he will never forget. Our son and daughter have heard this story and know their dad was affected by it. I hope any of you that were there that day went on to have prosperous and happy lives, and I am so sorry that any of you should have to experience such an unbelievable day.

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Virginia –

      Though there are many examples on this page of how profoundly affected many were by the crash, I still find accounts like yours fascinating. Thanks for your contribution and kind words at the end.

      RB

      Like

  24. Jack Locker says:

    I remember that day, vaguely. I was on recess at Havenhurst Elementry School, a few miles away in Granada Hills. I was 6 years old. I remember the noise from the collusion and the sound of the and sight of the spiraling down aircraft. The teachers gathered us up and I think she had us return to the classroom inside. I remember the spiraling smoke trail. Scary day for a little kid.
    Jack L.

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Jack –

      Thanks for writing. You were only a year older than I but you remember a lot more. Fortunately, I was too young to know that shiny bits of metal (all I remember) are not supposed to fall from the sky.

      RB

      Like

      • Harvey Tow says:

        Thanks for the forward, Russ.

        Harvey

        On Thu, Feb 13, 2014 at 1:23 AM, Russ Buchanan wrote:

        > Russ Buchanan commented: “Hi Jack – Thanks for writing. You were only > a year older than I but you remember a lot more. Fortunately, I was too > young to know that shiny bits of metal (all I remember) are not supposed to > fall from the sky. RB ” >

        Like

  25. Ron Oates says:

    I was at Terra Bella the day the plane crashed……….we were in class watching a movie about something with the blinds closed when the noise of the plane kept getting louder and louder and then the teacher screamed to DROP and we all did the drop drill but I cheated and was infront of the big old movie projector and watched it jump up in the air as the plane hit with a earthquake boom that blew the blinds into the class and all this stuff fell out of the sky afterward….I was 11 and lived on 10145 Vena st. and can’t remember how I got home or how long we were out of school but I do remember a airplane engine had gone over our classroom and landed in the lunch area………..I was telling my daughter about this and she looked it up and played the recording of graduation practice at the junior high and after 57 years I instantly remember the sound of the plane comming at us…..this really shook me up as it was there in the back of my head all this time…………I’m still sad about everyone who died and gut hurt but the guy that got that plane to hit in a sports field saved a lot more lives then were list……..maybe that’s why I cant live in a city and live in a town of 7 people with lots of room for planes to crash…..who knows but I am amazed that anyone bothered to remember this event or maybe we all got a lot more shook up then we thought………..Ron Oates

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hey Ron –

      Thanks for writing. Yeah, for many commenters on my Pacoima pages, it seems that hearing the tape has reawakened dormant feelings in them that they had long ignored or suppressed. I’m hoping the experience has been helpful.

      RB

      Like

  26. Dominic Miani says:

    Russ, thank you for sharing your recording and for this interesting thread of comments. I was not born at the time of this event, but of course like most people, I knew of it from La Bamba and Ritchie Valens. I happened to be at a family gathering when a relative was discussing how my Uncle (that had recently passed away), cheated death back in 57. He worked for Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica as an In-Flight instrument test technician and was supposed to be on a test flight that wound up crashing into a school yard in Pacoima. The relative that was telling the story was un-aware that it was the crash featured in the movie. The relative went on to say that my Uncle had given up his task to a younger man, a Japanese American man that also was an In-Flight instrument test technician and needed more experience. When I looked up the history of this incident, I found that one of the 4 crew members was a man named Roy T. Nakazawa and he was 28, which confirmed what I was being told, although he was listed as a radio operator. I’m quite sure that my Uncle knew all of the crew well and was deeply saddened by losing friends and co-workers. As well, my heart goes out to all who lost their lives that fateful day and to those who were affected by it even though it was a long time ago.

    Dominic

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Thanks for that bit of family lore. I’m sure many readers of these pages will find your uncle’s near-miss a fascinating addition to the Pacoima story.

      Most of the comments on these pages are from the point of view of witnesses and crash survivors. Your account of your uncle’s grief for his colleagues is a welcome acknowledgement of the crew members.

      Thanks again,

      RB

      Like

  27. Richard Bruce Abrahamson says:

    I witnessed the midair collision. I had just turned 5 years old and was home from school sick, a rarity for me. I lived in Mission Hills not far from Pacoima. Against my mothers wishes I wandered outside behind our home. I was looking up at the sky when the collision occurred, clearly seeing the debris from the crash falling. My mother yelled at me from the back door to come back inside our home. I reported what I saw and my mother just shook it off as a kids imagination. That evening as we gathered around the black and white it all came horribly true…I have never forgot that days events. I was reminded of the crash having just watched the movie “La Bamba”…Richard Bruce Abrahamson, born November 17, 1951. Later attended San Fernando High School, ’67-’69.

    Like

    • Harvey Tow says:

      Thanks, Russ- When you get more, please forward.

      Harvey

      On Mon, Mar 9, 2015 at 4:20 AM, Russ Buchanan wrote:

      > Richard Bruce Abrahamson commented: “I witnessed the midair collision. > I had just turned 5 years old and was home from school sick, a rarity for > me. I lived in Mission Hills not far from Pacoima. Against my mothers > wishes I wandered outside behind our home. I was looking up at the sky when > t”

      Like

  28. Robert Arthur Whaling says:

    I was on the field that morning. It was in-between semesters so the girls were not on the field because we did not dress in our normal gym clothes. We boys were able to play soccer in our street clothes so we were assigned to spread out on the whole gym field using the area at the east end where the girls normally were. We heard the announcement on the PA system from the gym office to come back in as the period was ending. As I walked in I noticed many of the guys looking up in the sky so I looked and saw the airplane coming down on fire and steaming smoke. The guys in front of me and up the field started running so I ran too. I looked back over my shoulder and saw the plane explode into there major sections and then disintegrate in a secondary explosion that sent debris and fire all around me. I felt the intense heat of the flames and kept on running until I came to the fence that separated the JH from the Tera Bella school and climbed to the top. The PA came on and asked that anyone not hurt come directly bace toward the gym office. I came down from the top of the chain link fence and started bace. I saw one of my school friends lying on the ground with his head smashed in and blacked by fire. That was the first time I had ever witnessed a dead person. I continued on in shock and saw one of my close friends walking in with his shirt on fire. I rushed over to help tear his shirt off. I kept coming in and came across another school friend who was bleeding badly from his foot from a very large cut. I got down on the ground with him and used my hands to act as a tourniquet until medical help could drive. While I was doing this my english teacher Mr Yamaguchi came running out on the field with horror on his face for what he was seeing. I was definitely in shock as I said to him, “hey Mr Yamaguchi, I’m still alive. To bad right?”

    In my thinking, if that accident had happened when the girls were on the field with the boys, It would have been a much worse event in terms of lives lost and injuries incurred. That plane hit the end of the field were the girls would have been. Thank God they were not. That day they were inside instead of on the field because it was a no dress day because of the semester end and the graduation taking place in the gym.

    It may not have seemed like it, but God was there that day. It could have been so much worse. It was terrible! Very terrible!

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Robert –
      Thank you so much for your first-hand account. I believe yours is the most detailed report yet on the explosion — or as you point out, explosions — of the DC-7.

      As you said, horrible as it was, it could have been much worse. For my family, as well — my sister was among the girls playing on the field moments before the plane came down.

      Even after these many years, I’m sure writing about that day brings back many awful feelings so, again, thank you.

      RB

      Like

  29. Xiantoni says:

    I found this site and I am sooo glad I did! My pastor of over 26 years was injured that day on the field! He just recently passed away at the age of 71! Growing up I remember hearing that story so many times! He was the Pastor at Calvary Baptist Church of Pacoima for 34 years! When “La Bama” came out the only reason I knew what that plane crash was about ,was because my Pastor William Broadous was a survivor! The movie in my opinion made it seem like a premonition more than an actual event! I remember seeing it and knowing right away it was about that! The only thing that saved his life besides the Lord was a leather jacket his father gave him! He also went to High School with Ritchie Valens at San Fernando ! I remember him talking about being in a body cast for over a year and being told he would never walk again! But he did! He had physical challenges after that due to his injury but Pastored for over 34 years and was a HUGE impact in the Pacoima area! His parents even founded and elementary school and there is a senior center named after his older sister! Thank you so much for posting this! His death brought all this back up in my head again , thanks so much for this!

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Xiantoni –
      Growing up in Pacoima, I heard the name Broadus frequently mentioned in my house. My folks were active in civil rights and often worked with your pastor’s father, Hillery.
      I was also familiar with his son William’s achievements and influence. But I had no idea that William was one of those seriously injured on that day. A year in a body cast! I wonder if my sister Pam, who was on the field when the plane came down, knew William. She often reads the new comments here so I have a feeling we will know fairly soon.
      My condolences on the death of your beloved pastor and thank you so much for writing.

      Russ Buchanan

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      • Harvey Tow says:

        Hi, Russ- Thanks for the forward on this and for remembering me. I hope all’s well with you and family.

        Harvey

        Like

  30. Roger Palmer says:

    I remember that tragic event very well. I was in drafting class at the time and had a lot of friends from my grade on the gym field. Some of them were seriously injured and even killed. My brother, Bob, was in the auditorium for the graduation exercise at the time of crash..

    Like

    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi, Roger– thanks for commenting.

      Like

      • Ron Oates says:

        I was going to the elementary school across the field from where the plane hit and we were watching a movie and the wine of the plane got so loud before it hit that the teacher screamed
        DROP !!!!! normally I would have half halfheartedly do as I was told but this was for real and when it hit the big old projector flew in the air from the impact, the windows got busted and all this paper or something was billowing around in the air…….We all were scrambled out the door
        and marched to a playground but one of the engines I guess bounced from the impact site over our building and landed in the outside lunch area???? this engine was bigger then a pick nick
        table and by all rights should have gone through the classroom rather then over it…….we got to go home after we were all counted and were not told anything about people the people killed or
        what did this………I still have issues with this along with some Nam stuff but everything in the class room flew,books people,movie projector and my mother felt the shock at home at 10145 Vena st in Pacoima……………this was a really bad deal and if you were crouched down with your head between your knees waiting for something coming directly, getting louder by the micro-second and then explode it’s worse them mortars…………………..

        Like

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