Trabuco Canyon, CA, Plane Crash Kills Famed Movie Pilot Frank Tallman, Apr 1978
Santa Monica, CA. In 1961, Frank Tallman and Paul Mantz, who were both accomplished aerial stunt pilots, or “precision pilots” as Tallman preferred the job called, for the movie industry, joined forces to establish Tallmantz Aviation, Inc. at the Orange County Airport (now John Wayne Airport) in Southern California. The business partners would provide pilots and camera planes, as well as maintained a small fleet of antique and historic aircraft for use in movie and television productions.
During the summer of 1965, Tallmantz Aviation was assisting in the production of the film “The Flight of the Phoenix”, starring James Stewart and Richard Attenborough. Tallmantz constructed a custom airworthy craft, the Tallmantz P-1, for use in the film.
Tallman was originally scheduled to perform the flying tasks for the film, but a mishap while playing with his young son in a motorized go-kart resulted in a shattered kneecap and broken leg, grounding him. But when infection set in, Tallman was hospitalized, and he would eventually have to have most of his leg amputated.
Then, on July 8th, 1965, during filming of one of the final aerial sequences for “The Flight of the Phoenix”, the P-1 crashed, killing Mantz, and seriously injuring a stunt man.
Undaunted, Tallman taught himself to fly with one leg and returned to stunting. Within a year he had requalified as a pilot of aircraft ranging from helicopters to military fighter planes. He became the first amputee to hold all FAA licenses. He continued movie work, including such motion pictures as It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, The Carpetbaggers, The Wrecking Crew, Catch-22, Murphy’s War, and The Great Waldo Pepper, and TV series like “Baa Baa Black Sheep”.
Two days before his 59th birthday, and after completing some of the most dangerous movie flying of his career, for the film Capricorn One, Tallman took off from Santa Monica Municipal Airport in the Tallmantz' twin-engine Piper PA-23 Aztec, which was painted white & yellow, and registered as N5641Y, on a ferry flight to Phoenix, Arizona. In contact with air traffic control, he last checked in with the control tower in Santa Barbara, even as the weather deteriorated as the flight continued - the nearest weather station to him was reporting a 600-foot overcast, one mile visibility, and heavy rain.
Shortly after 3 in the afternoon, Tallman's plane plowed into the top of the 3,500-foot Bell Ridge near Trabuco Canyon in the Santa Ana Mountains of Orange County.
An extensive search had been initiated by Orange County sheriff’s deputies, Orange County fire personnel, the Civil Air Patrol and a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter after several ground stations in the region had picked up an emergency radio signal. Deputies located the wreckage of the plane near Santiago Peak in the Cleveland National Forest at about 7:00 in the morning on the following day. The officials who climbed to the crash site found Tallman, still strapped in the cockpit, dead, and the plane's ELT still broadcasting.
The National Transportation Safety Board found that the probable cause of the accident was the pilot's “continued VFR flight into adverse weather conditions”. The instrument-rated pilot, who had over 20,000 flight hours, fell victim to one of the most common categories of pilot error.