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El Toro Marine Air Station, CA Air Disaster Kills 84, June 1965




Marines Believed Bound for Viet Nam.

El Toro Marine Air Station, Calif. (UPI) -- A mililtary jet transport, unaccountably failing to make a scheduled left turn, plunged into a fog-shrouded mountain and exploded after takeoff early Friday, killing all 84 men aboard -- including 72 Marines believed bound for Viet Nam.
There were no survivors in one of the worst military air disasters in peacetime history. It also was California's worst air disaster.
The C135 air transport, military conuterpart of the commercial Boeing 707 jetliner, smashed into a mountain 4 1/2 miles directly north of the end of the runway from which it took off moments before.
Turn Scheduled.
But Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) inspector ELMER PARKS said the flight plan called for the Air Force jet to have made a left turn two miles after liftoff.
In aq news conference late Friday, PARKS would not disclose whether the tape recording of the final conversation between tower and pilot indicated why the airman did not make the specified turn.
The pilot, Capt. WILLIAM F. CORDELL, JR., was a veteran of 3,000 hours flying time.
PARKS also declined comment on whether any sabotage was suspected. He said an investigation would be completed within 10 days.
"There was no indication the pilot didn't know the flight pattern," PARKS said.
Below Normal Altitude.
Under normal conditions the aircraft would have been at an altitude of 4,000-4,500 feet about 4 1/2 miles from takeoff.
A Marine officer, declining to be identified, said if the plane "lacked power, and went into its bank it might have wiped out a part of Orange," a suburban community near El Toro. He speculated the pilot might have tried to avoid such a disaster by keeping the plane on a straight course.
Orange County Coroner DR. RAYMOND BRANDT said all 84 bodies have been recovered. Ten had been positively identified by late afternoon.
The powerful jet "completely broke up: when it hit the mountain at the 1,500-foot level, about 75 feet below the summit.
The largest single piece of wreckage was the flattened out cockpit area, about 10 feet in diameter. The pilot's body lay inside.
Loma Peak Turned Into Nightmare.
El Toro Marine Base -- The sun heated fog clung to the human and airplane debris littering the mountain top.
Boots, some of them with feet, were scattered about.
Papers, technical manuals, some with singed edges, personal letters, cards, and official envelopes containing travel orders lay in disorder in the mesquite that covered the top of Loma Peak except where it had been burned by the explosion of 8,000 gallons of plane fuel.
Scattered pieces of uniforms tallied with the report that 72 of the 84 victims were U. S. Marines en route to Okinawa, staging point for South Viet Nam. The other 12 were the Air Force plane crew.
The first man at the scene, Sgt. BILL HASTINGS of the Marine Air Rescue Squadron from El Toro, said his first reaction was to radio for salvage crews to clean up the wreckage.
"I just felt that no one could have survived this one ... it was just that bad ... When I walked up from where the chopper landed me, and into that scene I felt as though someone had kicked me in the stomach ..."
Shortly before noon Gen. HOWELL M. ESTES, commanding general of the Military Air Transport Service (MATS) at Scott Field, Ill., arrived by jet. When he stepped from the T-39 sabreliner, he was wiping his tear-stained eyes. He looked hard hit.
"Those guys were the greatest," he said, "I'm just sick." He was visibly shaken when he returned from the crash scene.
In the bustling flight operations office at the Marine air field at El Toro, a girl, obviously not more than 20, appeared distraught.
A sergeant was talking to her. She looked down most of the time, but glanced up to say, "But they haven't notified me ....."
The sergeant looked away.
She asked, "What should I do?" She appeared ready to faint.
The sergeant called another Marine, "Get the chaplain."
The girl stared dazedly at the sergeant, "I love him and now, I know he's ... d .... gone. What'll I do? ... Yes, I know he was on the plane because he left late last night, and he was in the Third Marine Division ..."
The sergeant took her into the secluded recess of the weather station. As she went with him she nervously twisted the new rings on the third finger of her left hand.



el toro lpane crash 1965

At the time of the crash I was PFC Cordova headed to vietnam and was on the plane that crashed. Myself and another Marine were bumped for a higher ranking Marines As it happened the flight we were bumped too left before the flight we were bumped off of. When we landed in San Francisco we were told to call home but were not told why. The trouble was my parents were already on their way to claim my body so I never made contact with them before our flight left San Francisco. I would like to know who the other Marine is and where I might contact him. Again at the time of the crash I was PFC David L. Cordova. Any information would be appreciated.

El Toro plane crash - 1965

I would like to thank Stu Beitler for posting this article. I've been searching for members of my boot camp platoon and one of the guys that was in my platoon remembered this crash. He thought another platoon member, Charles W. Stevens was killed in the crash. Thanks to this article, I know know the person that died was Charles L. Stevens and not our Charles W. Stevens and I can continue my search for Charlie.

The Few. The Proud.
Jerry D.

you are welcome

you are very welcome Jerry.
I hope the information that I transcribed was correct in the newspaper.
God speed in your search

June 25, 1965 Plane Crash

I often think of that day......and the evening before the crash. I was a L/Cpl working in H&MS-15, the ill fated plane was parked in an open area near my outfit's hangers. I recall the guys all standing around and it seemed that they were delayed.........I recall a large coffee pot plugged in at the hanger and all the fixings for the guys milling around. The next morning, as I drove to work, I saw several helicopters hovering around the top of the mountain north of the base....I thought it was some sort of manuvers.

Once at work, about 0730 hrs, I saw all the empty cups laying around...and that the plane, the MATS KC130 was gone.

Someone told me that it had crashed during the night just after take off......

They requested men to go up on the mountain and recover the victims.

I along with couple hundred other Marines went up in Helicopters.....and we cruised over the crash site, but high enough we could not get a good visual of what was on the ground. It was foggy, misty and light rain......

We landed away from the crash site a ways, and we formed up facing..AWAY from the crash site. I stood there facing the valley, with El Toro in the distance.

We were told that NO ONE survived........and it was a very bad scene. IF ANYONE doesn't think they can handle it......GET BACK on the helicopters. MANY men climbed back on board. We were told, ONCE the helicopters take off......we were stuck up there for the duration. Then we were marched a slight distance from that location.........and we saw part of our first victim. It was shocking to see what damage a body could exerience. The command staff then said....OK NOW....WHO WANTS TO GO BACK ? And many more men went back to the helicopters............leaving about 150 of us behind.

We were lectured by a county coroner, that these men.......are gone. What were are going to see is are not MARINES.....or AIRMEN.......THOSE MEN ARE GONE. He was the point......we should not think about THOSE men, but do our job and recover their remains.

I have often said, and still say, WE all did our jobs....with respect ! I felt honored to have been apart of that day's activities.....but the sights are branded into my memory. Now in my later 60's, I wonder if I am forgetting some small details................I want to make contact with another Marine that walked that hillside and valley that day with me. I have questions that haunt me and I cannot explain WHY......I remember the bodies, the body bags, my blood soaked clothing and the gore. I recall lifting the bags into 6X trucks, riding down the mountain with them piled inside the canvas covered trucks and unloading them at a hanger at El Toro..........................................BUT MY BRAIN HAS BLOCKED OUT HOW I GOT ALL THAT BLOOD ON MY UNIFORM.

I have been in contact now with 3 families of the men on that aircraft. More than willing to help anyone with questions....within good taste, but, ONLY another Marine who did what I did that day can answer MY questions.

I AM SEMPER FI, Jim Keith, St. Louis

I met someone yesterday at a

I met someone yesterday at a VA Hospital who claims to have been a "survivor" of this event. His first name was Steve. I don't know if he's the real deal or delusional....He said that he's writing a book about this event and the big "cover-up."

El Toro Plane Crash - are you from compton

Don't know why, but I've been searching for a David Cordova who grew up in the Compton Lynwood area. He was a friend of my brother Steve. I was a kid at the time. David was well liked by my entire family. Are you the same one?

Thank you Jim Keith, You

Thank you Jim Keith, You have actually put one small piece of the puzzle in place for me. Of course, I'll never have the answer that I really want-that it never happened. However, I never understood why my love, Tucker R Burt, left on June 26th instead of the 25th. He called me the evening of the 24th to tell me he was flying out the next day. Of course I didn't hear from him on the 25th because he should have been gone. Now I at least understand a little better. There was a delay because of plane problems. Nothing will ever bring him back. At least now I understand that there was a delay. Nothing was ever said about a delay, just that he was on that plane, and that he was gone. I still miss him and think of him often. I'm glad he didn't have to suffer Viet Nam, but I do miss him and love him still. Thank you. My name is irrelivent, I just want to thank you for filling in a space that I've needed filled for a very long time.

Name correction

His name is Robert S. Shedis not Shedla. Son of Bruno and Julie Shedis. Calumet Park. Illinois

Met this guy too

The guy you speak of is Steve Beduna. He made contact with me through the funeral home that handled my brothers (Pfc Russell Babcock) funeral service. When my friend that owns the funeral home called me and told me this guy was there, I agreed to go meet him. I invited him back to my house to hear his story. At the end of our time together, I came to the conclusion that he was suffering some kind of survivors syndrome, because as he was telling me and my family about that day, he would just break into tears. His research is/was extensive including newspaper articles from around the world regarding the crash. As far as the cover-up he claimed to have been to Boeing, the Pentigon etc asking questions and received answers about the possibility of the tail section of the plane breaking off just after take off. This explains the loss of communication (the antenna is in the tail) and the inability of the plane to climb because the flaps were ineffective. I personally have also done some research and there are a few statements in the accident report that are to say the least shakey. The one glaring issue is the cause was determined to be the fact that "demineralized water" was not available for use in the engines and heavy "regular water" was used causing the plane to be too heavy and when they turned west, they clipped the top of the ridge. My brother inlaw who was a marine aviation mechanic looked at this report and was quite sure that demineralized water was needed in turbo prop planes and he concluded that statement was B.S. because this plane had jet engines. D-water was not a requirement. Isn't it funny that after 45 years exactly today, this still haunts us. I was 9 years old when this happened, and I think we buried my brother sometime around july 4th. It was probably the worse days of my life and I will never forget him or the men he died with. He was so proud to be a Marine. Semper Fi.

June 25, 1965

Thank you for getting my brother (Pfc Russell Babcock) home to us. I hope all is well with you and your family. You did a good thing and I am pleased to be able to say Thank you. For all of us. Sincerely Butch

article | by Dr. Radut