Clash over Los Angeles DC-9 Aeromexico and private Piper Cherokee
Clash over Los Angeles DC-9 Aeromexico and private Piper Cherokee

Clash over Los Angeles

DC-9 Aeromexico and private Piper Cherokee


            International Airport in Los Angeles - It is one of the busiest airports in the world. Every year they are 40 million passengers. More 1500 planes take off and land there every day.


            31 August 1986 year. On that day, the air traffic was regulated by Walter White. He was a dispatcher who had not yet been fully trained.


Manager: It was a difficult weekend and a beautiful day in Los Angeles. The sky was perfectly clear. Walter asked me to put his control. I allowed him. He wanted to work for the sake of training.





            At this time, passengers were boarding hundreds of kilometers from the United States. DC-9Which belonged to the company "Aeromexico". Someone was coming home from vacation, and someone was flying on business. To the east of Los Angeles, Cerritos town slowly waking up from a dream. Many people were at home and rested. After a few hours flight 498 was on approach to the airport. By coincidence, at the same time from a small airport in Torrance flew a private plane Piper Cherokee. In it the family of local engineer flew to rest.


Piper Cherokee

Piper Cherokee


            Walter White's job was to make sure that the arriving planes were at a sufficient distance. In 11: 47, he received the first call from flight 498. At the direction of the dispatcher, the plane began to descend to a height of 6000 meters. At this time, William Kramer on the Piper Cherokee continued to climb. Suddenly, the attention of Walter White drew a private plane, which without permission flew into the area of ​​control of the airport in Los Angeles. While the dispatcher was directing him, the 498 board continued its approach.


            Suddenly, the DC-9 plane shook from the bounce. The airliner sharply dropped his nose and entered at the peak. Walter White tried to contact the crew, but he did not succeed. Despite all the efforts of the pilots, the huge plane crashed and crashed into the densely populated area of ​​Cerritos.


Eyewitness: I saw a huge explosion. As if the earth bomb fell.


            In the control room, everyone was confused. They still did not know what happened to the plane. To clarify the situation, the dispatcher contacted another airliner that flew in the area. His pilots confirmed the worst fears. They saw a smoke screen on the ground where DC-9 was supposed to fly.


            Meanwhile, a fire was raging in Cerritos. The fire was everywhere. Rescue services immediately moved to the rescue. When the firefighters arrived, they saw a terrible picture. Even many rescuers have been seen shocked.


Local resident: My house was completely in flames. I did not know where my family. I soon learned that only one survived my son.


            16 homes were damaged. Many of them are completely burned. At the airport, the meeting could not wait for their relatives.


A relative of the dead: I went to the airport to meet her husband and sons. I waited a very long time. After that, all the greeters was taken to a separate room. They told us that the plane crashed and all died.


            In Cerritos, emergency workers were shocked by another discovery. On the playground of the local school, they found the wreckage of the Piper Cherokee. In the absence of noticeable damage, the cabin roof was cut off. Three of his passengers were found dead. In total, 82 people died in this disaster. What went wrong? Investigators from the National Transport Safety Committee (NTSB) should have figured this out.


            From the outset, investigators focused on the fact that there were two planes on the ground. This led to the thought of a mid-air collision. Investigators scrutinized the crash site to determine how the planes moved prior to the crash and at what angle they might have collided. They soon found scratches and Piper Cherokee paint on the wreckage of the DC-9.


disaster dc-9


Investigator: It seems that the Piper Cherokee struck in the rear compartment of an aircraft. Because of this tailplane failed. When this happens, control the height of the flight is no longer possible.


            The descending DC-9 and the ascending Piper Cherokee collided at a 90 degree angle. Their total speed was 450 km / h. Due to the impact, the tail section of the airliner came off. Investigators found out what happened. But they were more worried about how this could happen. To put the circumstances of the tragedy together, experts began studying the DC-9 flight recorders. This made it possible to determine the exact position and height of the airliner at the time of the collision. DC-9 was in airport controlled airspace. But the Piper Cherokee was there too. Private jets must obtain permission to enter this area. Although the deceased private jet pilot was not a local, he was aware of the flight restrictions in the airport area. Also, looking through the documents from the Piper Cherokee's cockpit, the investigators found out that their route had to go far from the airport. Experts examined the medical records of the Piper Cherokee pilot. As it turned out, he suffered from heart disease. Perhaps he had a heart attack and therefore the plane lost control. William Kramer's heart tissue samples were sent for testing.


disaster dc-9


            Regardless of the well-being of the pilot Piper Cherokee, the dispatcher had to see him on his radar screen. But during the interrogation, Walter White told investigators that Piper Cherokee did not appear on the radar.


Investigator: He was sure that there was not that plane. He could not see it.


            The experts were dissatisfied with the memories of White. Meanwhile, came the results of the analysis of the pilot's heart tissue. They showed that although Kramer suffered from a progressive heart disease, he did not have a heart attack before the collision. After careful research, the experts seem to understand why Piper Cherokee was near the airport.


Expert: Piper Cherokee pilot flew the plane with the help of landmarks. Perhaps he was trying to follow along the motorway. But he stumbled along a highway he had to fly.


            Arriving in California and confused by the interweaving of highways, Kramer could fly into the airspace of the airport without knowing it. After some time, the investigators made another loud statement. The dispatcher could see Kramer’s aircraft on his radar. Although the airport equipment was outdated, the investigators had no reason to believe that it was faulty. Due to the difficult terrain, some targets could disappear from the radar for a few seconds. However, this is only a temporary phenomenon, which passed very quickly. It was also suggested that the dispatcher could not have noticed the approaching Piper Cherokee from another private plane that also flew into the airport zone without permission.


Investigator: Was the aircraft to the east of the airport. This was the so-called offender. At the critical moment when the two aircraft were flying towards each other, the controller for too long talking to the intruder.


            Another difficulty for the dispatcher was that he did not have all the information about Piper Cherokee. The radar at the airport showed only the position and direction of the aircraft. In turn, the repeaters of the aircraft indicated to the dispatcher the speed and altitude of the flight. A technical study by Piper Cherokee showed that a base repeater was installed on board. He did not transmit to the control tower data on the speed and height of the aircraft.


Investigator: Controllers are used to seeing a lot of small triangles on the screen that indicate the Air Force planes. When they do not get the data from the pilot, it is assumed that the plane did not invade its airspace, as military pilots know the rules of the air near the airport.


disaster dc-9


            Investigators believed that Walter White dispersed his attention and did not warn DC-9 about a private jet. Soon another discovery stunned the investigators. As the data showed, neither the pilots of the airliner nor Kramer took any action to avoid a collision. It seems they did not suspect about each other. To get a better idea of ​​what was happening on board the 498 flight, the investigators listened to voice recorder recordings. Unfortunately, the record was too poor quality to parse something. A picture with a radar just confusing. According to him, the Piper Cherokee was in sight of the DC-9 pilots for more than a minute! And if the Cramers looked out of the side window, they would also see a huge airliner. But no aircraft has changed its course. No aircraft took any action.


Expert: Pilots DC-9 may not have noticed Kramer's small plane. In some cases, the planes approach too quickly. By the time the ship becomes visible, it is too late to do anything.


            Also, the DC-9 glazing design could prevent pilots from seeing the approaching aircraft. A small Piper Cherokee could be hidden behind a vertical stand. He was simply not visible.


            The crash over Cerritos revealed several regrettable weaknesses in the air traffic control system. One of them is the most obvious: it was impossible to rely on pilots. They did not see each other, as often happens. The Federal Aviation Administration responded very quickly to increase flight safety. Smaller aircraft needed a new type of repeater with which dispatchers could learn that a private plane was dangerous.


Investigator: If the plane flies through the airspace of dispatching service and transmits data about yourself, the probability of error is eliminated. It does not matter whether there is an intruder or not.


            A new system was also developed to alert dispatchers about intruders. Thus, the ground staff had the opportunity to warn pilots before the onset of a critical situation. The most important innovation was the introduction of a warning system about the threat of a collision. This system constantly monitors the air situation and informs the pilot about the danger in 45 seconds before a possible collision. Today, all commercial airlines use this system to increase passenger safety. Dispatcher Walter White was never able to recover from the shock. A few months later he left the control room and never sat behind the radar screen. During the year after the accident, the old locators at Los Angeles airport were replaced.


            Since then, the United States has not had a single collision in the air. Now only the memorial to the victims of the tragedy, which is installed in Cerritos, reminds of a catastrophe. 


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