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From the Archives: Deadly 1957 midair collision over Pacoima

From the Archives: Deadly 1957 midair collision over Pacoima
Jan. 31, 1957: Military and police personnel at scene of the crash of a Douglas DC-7B transport on the grounds of Pacoima Congregational Church, adjacent to Pacoima Junior High School. (Larry Sharkey / Los Angeles Times)

In January 1957, a Douglas DC-7B collided with a U.S. Air Force F-89 jet over the San Fernando Valley. Eight people were killed, including three students at Pacoima Junior High School.

At 10:15 a.m., the Douglas Aircraft Co. DC-7B aircraft left Santa Monica Airport on its first test flight. Two Air Force F-89 jet fighters departed Palmdale at 10:50 a.m. to test their radar.

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At 11:18 a.m., while the aircraft were performing their test operations over the San Fernando Valley, one of the F-89s collided with the Douglas DC-7B.

In a Jan. 28, 2007, story staff writer Cecilia Rasmussen reported:

...On Jan. 31, 1957, a clear, crisp Thursday morning, twin Scorpion fighter jets from Northrop's Palmdale facility engaged in routine "scissors interceptions" -- first one plane, then the other, served as a target to test radar equipment.

At 11:18 a.m., one moved into a wide turn 25,000 feet above the San Fernando Valley. As it completed the turn, the jet slammed into the wing of a DC-7B transport plane returning to Douglas Aircraft's Santa Monica plant on a routine test run.

The Scorpion burst into flames. The pilot, Roland Earl Owen, 35, of Palmdale, went down with the jet in La Tuna Canyon; the radar operator, Curtiss A. Adams, 27, parachuted to safety.

The DC-7B pilot, William Carr, 36, of Pacific Palisades, struggled to control the plane as it went into a dive and final spin. Copilot Archie R. Twitchell, 50, of Northridge transmitted the last radio message from the crippled plane:

"Uncontrollable, uncontrollable ... midair collision.... We are going in.... We've had it, boys. I told you we should have had chutes." A brief silence, then: "Say goodbye to everybody."

The remains of Carr, Twitchell and the other crew members -- radio operator Roy Nakazawa, 28, and flight engineer Waldo B. Adams, 42, both of Los Angeles -- were found in the fuselage, which smacked into the ground at Pacoima Congregational Church, adjacent to the school.

Part of an engine crashed through the roof of the church auditorium, smashing windows and destroying that building.

"I thought the church was being bombed," Doris McClain, 27, told The Times. She was in the church office with her 18-month-old daughter, Kathy. Both escaped injury.

About 80 students stood in the schoolyard transfixed, watching the plane hurtle toward them. Some dived to the ground; others were running when the blast of debris overtook them. Three died: Ronnie Brann, 13; Robert Zallan, 12; and Evan Elsner, 12.

"Someone ran into me and I fell down," Wallace Roger, 13, told a Times reporter. "Gasoline was spraying all across the field. When the plane hit, the shock waves rolled me over and over and over. I saw one boy on fire. Another boy beat out the flames with his leather jacket." …

The full story by Cecilia Rasmussen is online: L.A. Then and Now The day fiery disaster fell from the sky.

Jan. 31, 1957: Rescue workers treat Ken Smith, 13, in foreground, as others gather around additional victims injured by flying bits of wreckage strewn over grounds of Pacoima Junior High School by DC-7B transport that collided with jet over the San Fernando Valley.
Jan. 31, 1957: Rescue workers treat Ken Smith, 13, in foreground, as others gather around additional victims injured by flying bits of wreckage strewn over grounds of Pacoima Junior High School by DC-7B transport that collided with jet over the San Fernando Valley. (Los Angeles Times)
Feb. 1, 1957: Randy Kuehl, 8, left, retrieves baseball glove and Linda Sue Knight, 5, her doll from wreckage of the Kuehls' home at 13355 Terra Bella St. Linda Sue was in the house during plane crash but escaped injury.
Feb. 1, 1957: Randy Kuehl, 8, left, retrieves baseball glove and Linda Sue Knight, 5, her doll from wreckage of the Kuehls' home at 13355 Terra Bella St. Linda Sue was in the house during plane crash but escaped injury. (Los Angeles Times)
Jan. 31, 1957: An engine from the DC-7B transport is partially embedded in the paved surface of the school play yard.
Jan. 31, 1957: An engine from the DC-7B transport is partially embedded in the paved surface of the school play yard. (Los Angeles Times)
Jan. 31, 1957: Wheel assembly of the Douglas DC-7B transport on the grounds of Pacoima Congregational Church, next door to Pacoima Junior High School, following midair collision with Air Force F-89 jet.
Jan. 31, 1957: Wheel assembly of the Douglas DC-7B transport on the grounds of Pacoima Congregational Church, next door to Pacoima Junior High School, following midair collision with Air Force F-89 jet. (Los Angeles Times)
Jan. 31, 1957: Staff Sgt. Alvin Hidalgo of the Van Nuys Air National Guard checks through wreckage of an Air Force F-89 Scorpion jet interceptor which collided in midair with Douglas Aircraft-operated DC-7B.
Jan. 31, 1957: Staff Sgt. Alvin Hidalgo of the Van Nuys Air National Guard checks through wreckage of an Air Force F-89 Scorpion jet interceptor which collided in midair with Douglas Aircraft-operated DC-7B. (Los Angeles Times)
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