David Koch survived a fiery jet collision at LAX in 1991. He said it transformed his life

Plane crash
USAir crash at Los Angeles International Airport in 1991.

On a Friday evening in 1991, a USAir jetliner was making its landing approach at Los Angeles International Airport just as a SkyWest commuter was set to take off.

The two planes collided on the runaway in a fiery crash that killed 33 people, marking one of the worst aviation accidents in Los Angeles history.

David Koch, the billionaire conservative firebrand who died this week, was on board the USAir jet. He managed to get out. Dozens of others on the plane burned to death. Many of the bodies were found in rows 15 through 17, apparently trying to reach exits in the rear of the USAir fuselage.


Koch would later say the incident changed his life.

“I was amazed I survived the accident,” Koch told Barbara Walters in an ABC interview. “I felt the good lord was sitting on my shoulders and helped save my life because he wanted me to do good works and be a good citizen.”

Koch told Walters the crash prompted him to become a philanthropist. He was a major donor to a variety of causes in New York, particularly the arts. But along with his brother Charles, he also funded conservative causes that transformed American politics in ways that made the Kochs pariahs in some circles.

According to The Times’ coverage of the crash, an investigation found that an LAX air traffic controller had directed the USAir jetliner to land on the same runway where she had earlier told a SkyWest jet to await takeoff.

The jetliner, a Boeing 737 out of Columbus, Ohio, carrying 83 passengers and a crew of six, plowed into the rear of the twin-engine SkyWest commuter and erupted in flames. Both aircraft skidded more than 1,200 feet down the runway, across the tarmac and into the side of an unoccupied airport fire station.