Norwalk, CA Transport Plane and Bomber Collide In Midair, Feb 1958
AT LEAST 46 DIE IN NORWALK AIR COLLISION, HOMES BLAZE.
DEBRIS FALLS ON BIG AREA.
PLANE FROM L.B. AIRPORT EXPLODES, DROPS IN FLAMES.
An Air Force transport plane and a Navy bomber collided in the air over thickly populated Norwalk Saturday night, killing at least 46 persons and showering flaming wreckage over a wide area.
The Douglas C118 transport, carrying 41, had taken off from Long Beach Air Force Base only minutes before it collided in mid-air with the Navy Neptune P2V patrol bomber.
Like a fireball hurtling out of the night, the fuselage of the C118 smashed into the parking lot behind the Norwalk sheriff's station and exploded at 7:14 p.m.
No one in the sheriff's station was hurt.
The crippled bomber, believed to have been carrying seven men, crashed in the Santa Fe Springs area about 1 1/2 miles north of the transport.
Three of the seven Navy men reportedly survived the crash, while four were killed outright, a preliminary investigation indicated.
The bomber was assigned to Los Alamitos Naval Air Station.
The only reported civilian victim was MRS. EDITH HERNANDEZ, a housewife who was decapitated when a section of the transport wing sliced into a house at 12303 Jersey St., Norwalk.
Armed services are withholding names of military casualties until next of kin are notified.
The Navy said men on the P2V were reservists on a training flight.
Two of the survivors, now at the Hospital ship Haven here, were identified as Lt. Cmdr. ROBERT M. HUBENETTE, 33, operations officer of Monterey Park, a policeman in civilian life and LESLIE W. VAN DYKE, 22, aviation electronics technician 3/c of Laguna Beach. VAN DYKE is a Long Beach State College student.
A third known survivor was not identified. He was taken to Carobil Hospital.
"Only a miracle" prevented a much higher death toll in the crash, Acting Lt. RUDOLPH M. WIGGINS, Norwalk sheriff's station watch commander, said.
If the plane had crashed 100 yards south, it would have "killed at least 100 persons," said WIGGINS.
THe sheriff's station is at Pioneer and Firestone Blvds., in the heart of one of the community's most heavily-populated residential and commercial neighborhoods.
An estimated 25,000 persons swarmed into the area to gape at the flaming wreckage -- the first of them arriving even before fire rigs had set up their equipment.
"Please ask people not to touch any pieces of wreckage or any bodies they many find in this area," pleaded one Air Force captain. "We need every bit of evidence we can get to reconstruct this thing."
The crash of the C118 -- a Long Beach-built military version of the DC-6 transport -- demolished eight patrol cars and seven civilian autos parked behind the sheriff's station.
It also touched off two explosions which shattered the station with bomb-like force. One of the blasts was fired by the gasoline in a 200,000 gallon underground storage tank.
The shock of the crash touched off near-panic among the 23 prisoners in the jail section only about 40 feet from the wreckage.
As gasoline-fed flames roared upward, the screaming prisoners were led from their cells and locked in a tiny booking room in the main part of the sheriff's station.
This was the forepart of a scene of confusion that took over for the next two hours.
Traffic was jammed in all directions as the flames set up a glow in the evening sky.
Civil defense machinery was thrown into action, and police reinforcements were called in from other sheriff's stations and from the Long Beach and Los Angeles police departments.
The two planes had taken off from adjacent airports at almost exactly the same time.
The twin-engine Navy plane lfet the runway at Los Alamitos Naval Air Station, just east of Long Beach, at 7:07 p.m.
One minute later, at 7:08 p.m. the four-engine Air Force transport took off from Long Beach Municipal Airport bound for Maguire Air Force Base, N. J.
The separate flights were to end six minutes later in common disaster.
Exactly how it happened, no one could say.
A minute later, the scene on the ground below was that of a battlefield.
Off-duty officers were called in to duty. Residents of the neighborhood surrounding the sheriff's station first scurried for shelter, then came back to press against fire lines to view the damage.
The home in which MRS. HERNANDEZ was decapitated was about three blocks away, Lt. WIGGINS said.
Other bodies were reported found at 12312 S. Roseton Ave. They were believed to have been occupants of the C118 -- men who had been tossed clear of the flaming wreckage.
As the night deepened, the Air Force called in cranes to lift the heavy engines from the wreckage and search for bodies.
Floodlights splashed day like illumination over the grim scene.
JACK DILDAY of Dilday Mortuary wasa called in to take charge of the bodies of the service personnel.
A field morgue was being set up at the sheriff's station as disaster workers began the task of identifying bodies from the metal dogtags worn around their necks.
The Navy plane crashed about 2 1/2 miles away.
One parachute-shrouded body crashed through the skylight of a near-empty bar, narrowly missing several patrons.
The bomber itself landed in an open area in the oil-rich community of Santa Fe Springs.
The crash occurred exactly one year and a day after a mid-air collision of two planes over Pacoima made headlines across the nation -- and brought demands that flying over populated areas be restricted.
Wreckage of one of those planes landed in a Pacoima schoolyard, killing three children and five airmen.
In Saturday night's crash, part of the Air Force transport thudded into a home, trapping two elderly residents. They were rescued by two boys who, running to the crash scene, heard their cries.
Extent of injuries of the survivors of the Navy crash was not immediately known.
Deputy sheriff KERMIT KYNELL saw the Santa Fe Springs crash. He was the first officer on the scene.
He said one survivor was lying 150 feet from the wreckage and two others were alive in the wreckage.
The man outside the plane moaned, "I don't know what happened ... I don't know what happened. I'm from Los Alamitos Naval Air Station."
Independent Press-Telegram Long Beach California 1958-02-02