1986 Aeromexico crash rained horror from the sky in Cerritos

first_imgThe National Transportation Safety Board later determined that the air traffic controller was too busy to see the radar blip of the small plane as it blundered into commercial airspace. Moreover, Kramer’s plane lacked a transponder that would have alerted the control tower that it was at 6,500 feet, the same altitude as the Aeromexico jet making its final descent into LAX.“The planes just went straight into each other,” witness Cindy Gillespiecq testified during a 1989 trial to determine liability for the crash. “No one seemed to swerve or anything.”Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabecq, then mayor of Cerritos, recalled seeing thick plumes of black smoke wafting into the sky as he left church services that day. He presumed the new post office was on fire.He walked into his house to the sound of the phone ringing, a sheriff’s deputy calling to say he was on his way to pick up the mayor. Two planes had crashed into a middle-class neighborhood less than a quarter-mile from Knabe’s home, and his help was needed.At the same time, Knabe’s wife turned on the television and started screaming.“In Cerritos, we had plenty of money, 26 parks,” Knabe recalled recently. “Things like this aren’t supposed to happen.”Authorities established command centers as firefighters extinguished fires on Holmes Avenue, Ashworth Place and Reva Circle. Aided by residents, coroners’ officials began the grim task of recovering bodies from the smashed homes and twisted fuselage.“Bodies were everywhere,” Richard Santanacq said at the time. “There’s debris everywhere, pieces of people everywhere. There was nothing I could do but help cover up the bodies.”John O’Neillcq ran out of his Reva Circle home after he heard an explosion.“It was absolute total destruction,” he said then. “There are pieces of the engine all over. My backyard is a mess. My house is covered with pieces of you name it.”For Knabe and other city officials, the days, weeks and months following the accident were spent orchestrating cleanups, reaching out to victims, resolving to rebuild.Mental health officials went door to door, searching for people still cowering inside their homes in fear or in survivor’s guilt, Knabe recalled.The city loosened construction codes to facilitate rebuilding. The incident highlighted the necessity of disaster preparedness and mutual-aid agreements, Knabe said.In the aftermath, 70 lawsuits were filed over the accident. They were consolidated into a single federal suit that led to a $56.5 million payout to plaintiffs in 1989.A jury absolved Aeromexico of wrongdoing, finding the FAA and Kramer equally to blame for the tragedy.Two years later, the FAA began requiring equipment called Mode C transponders on small planes near busy airports. The equipment broadcasts a plane’s position and altitude, giving controllers data instead of just blips.The FAA also required commercial aircraft to be equipped with traffic alert and collision avoidance systems. And it consolidated radar centers and reconfigured LAX flight paths to keep small planes away from jetliners.The Cerritos neighborhood eschewed a memorial near the crash site, but the city’s sculpture garden now features a monument – a marble-and-granite piece symbolizing the 64 people who died aboard the jet, the three on the small plane and 15 on the ground.The abstract, free-form shapes evoke wings, flying, weightlessness and release, the city’s Web site stated.But while much of that neighborhood has changed, the people who lived through the day when fire and shrapnel rained from the sky haven’t forgotten.“It’ll never be normal – never,” Cerritos resident Randy Economycq said days after the crash. “The emotional scars are there too badly. When I take a walk here at night, that’s all I think about: the horror of seeing bodies flying, the screaming, and myself, helpless to do anything.”[email protected] local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREStriving toward a more perfect me: Doug McIntyre A single-engine plane piloted by a Rancho Palos Verdes man had clipped the tail of an Aeromexico jet about to land at Los Angeles International Airport. In a recent interview, Tom Doty recalled how he and his family watched in shock as the jet turned belly-up, then streaked past the left wing of their Piper Comanche in its nose dive to Earth.Seconds later, an inferno erupted as the DC-9 jetliner crashed into homes where residents had been enjoying a lazy Labor Day weekend. The badly damaged Piper Cherokee fell onto the vacant playground at Cerritos Elementary School, where classes were set to start just a few days later.The disaster destroyed nearly a dozen homes and killed 82 people – including 15 on the ground, the most ground fatalities of any U.S. aviation disaster.It also prompted the Federal Aviation Administration to impose stricter safety requirements for both commercial and private aircraft to avoid a recurrence of the tragedy.With his wife and daughter aboard, 52-year-old William Kramercq was flying the four-seater Piper Cherokee from Torrance to Big Bear when he cross paths with the Aeromexico jet piloted by Arturo Valdez-Promcq. Johnny Dotycq leaned forward from the back of the four-seater plane soaring 5,500 feet over the sprawling suburbs of Los Angeles.“Dad, is that airplane going to crash?” he asked.“Yes,” Tom Doty, then a Redondo Beach police lieutenant, calmly answered from the pilot’s seat. “They don’t fly so good without tails.”It was just before noon on Aug. 31, 1986, and the Doty family – 11-year-old Johnny and his parents, Tom and Janet – had just witnessed what would become one of the nation’s worst aviation disasters.last_img read more