In George’s Point of View
It is a strange, sad phenomenon how tragedies live on.
On August 31, 1986, a Piper and a Douglas DC-9-32 collided over Cerritos California. The Piper, carrying the pilot and two passengers was going from Torrence to Big Bear. They departed Torrence at 11:46. The DC-9 from Mexico City was approaching Los Angeles with 58 passengers and 6 crew aboard. At 11:52 am, the DC-9’s left horizontal stabilizer sheared through the Piper’s cockpit like a can-opener.
The Piper crashed in the Cerritos Elementary School playground; the DC-9 in a Cerritos neighborhood destroying five houses, damaging seven more and killing an additional 15 on the ground.
Descriptions of the collision still fill me with horror.
The accident predates some of the precautionary measures we have now. Now, the Piper would have a Mode C transponder, which would indicate that it was too high, breeching LAX Terminal Control area; LAX was not at that time equipped with automatic warning systems.
It has been twenty-five years since that accident happened. A memorial ceremony now is being held commemorating the tragedy in the Cerritos Sculpture Garden, and another in Loreto, Mexico. The tragedy is being remembered by at least 30 US families, 20 Mexican families, in at least one home in Colombia, and one in El Salvador. It is being remembered in the neighborhood the wreckage demolished, where families neither need nor want a plaque to remind them of their loss.
There is a reminder of this crash in every light plane, and every jet. In fact, everyone who flies now, everyone who has flown and not died in a crash owes a debt to the victims of this senseless tragedy, because this was the event that spurred the FAA to require “Mode C” transponders that could report three-dimensional positioning on light aircraft. This was the event that spurred the FAA to require TCAS on airliners.
I still live to breathe the smoggy air of Los Angeles. And as long as I still have the breath of life, I will remember the day when these 82 souls breathed their last.
Aviation tragedies shatters lives like broken glass, and there is no lawsuit, no settlement, no “all the kings horses, nor all the kings men” who can ever put families back together again.