When he returned to his South-Central Los Angeles home from a midday errand Saturday, Earnest Glass was alarmed to find a dozen police cars and two dozen neighbors in front of his house.
"One of the neighbors told me he looked up and saw a piece of a plane falling in my backyard," said Glass, a 73-year-old retired paint salesman who lives at 440 East 95th St. "Then I saw the police coming out of my house and I got all shook up.
"I thought we had another Cerritos," he added, referring to the August, 1986, tragedy when two planes collided in the air, killing 67 on the two planes and 15 others on the ground.
Glass' concern was quickly allayed, however, when he learned that no one was injured by the 6-foot by 2-foot piece of an American Airlines DC-10 wing flap that crashed among his lemon and avocado trees. Two other pieces the same size fell harmlessly in the street nearby, authorities said.
A 20-foot-long section of the landing flap on the left wing apparently broke off as it was opening during Flight 181's approach to Los Angeles International Airport shortly before noon, said FAA spokesman Russell Park. The flight, which was en route from Chicago, carried 223 passengers and 11 crew members.
The pilot, who felt the plane roll slightly to the left, temporarily aborted the landing, circled once to adjust the right flap to balance the plane and landed without incident, said American Airlines spokesman Russell Mack.
Searching for Cause
Both the Federal Aviation Administration and American Airlines officials said they were investigating the incident to determine why the section of the flap broke off.
While all three pieces of the flap were recovered, that was more than Glass could say for his composure, and that of his wife, Agnes, and sister-in-law, Nellie F. Young. Both women were home when metal from the sky landed 20 feet from the one-story stucco house.
"When that thing hit, they couldn't figure out what it was because it made such a terrible noise," Glass said Saturday evening. "They thought somebody was trying to take a car out and hit something.
"We're just fortunate that it fell away from the house because it was pretty close, and that's enough to shake anybody up. Everybody's still wobbly."