The DC-9, missing its horizontal stabilizer as a result of the collision, plummeting into Cerritos
|Date||August 31, 1986|
|Site||Cerritos, California, U.S. |
|Total fatalities||82 (including 15 on ground)|
|Total injuries||8 (on ground)|
|Total survivors||0 (on planes)|
An Aeroméxico DC-9,
similar to the aircraft involved in the accident
|Type||McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32|
|Flight origin||Mexico City International Airport|
Mexico City, Mexico
|1st stopover||Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla International Airport|
Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico
|2nd stopover||Loreto International Airport|
Loreto, Baja California Sur
|Last stopover||General Abelardo L. Rodríguez International Airport|
Tijuana, Baja California
|Destination||Los Angeles International Airport|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
A Piper PA-28-181 Archer,
similar to the aircraft involved in the accident
|Type||Piper PA-28-181 Archer|
|Flight origin||Zamperini Field|
|Destination||Big Bear City Airport|
Big Bear Lake, California
Aeroméxico Flight 498 was a scheduled commercial flight from Mexico City to Los Angeles, with several intermediate stops. On Sunday, August 31, 1986, the McDonnell Douglas DC-9 operating the flight was clipped in the tail section by N4891F, a Piper PA-28-181 Archer owned by the Kramer family, and crashed into the Los Angeles suburb of Cerritos, killing all 67 on both aircraft and an additional fifteen on the ground. Eight on the ground also sustained minor injuries from the midday crash.
Blame was allocated equally between the Federal Aviation Administration and the pilot of the Piper. No fault was found with the DC-9 or the actions of its crew.
The larger aircraft involved, a McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32 with tail number XA-JED named Hermosillo, was delivered in April 1969 to Delta Air Lines as N1277L before entering into service with Aeroméxico in November 1979. It was en route from Mexico City to Los Angeles International Airport (with intermediate stops in Guadalajara, Loreto, and Tijuana).
N4891F was a privately operated Piper PA-28-181 Archer owned by the Kramer family, which was en route from Torrance to Big Bear City, California. The Piper aircraft, with pilot William Kramer and two passengers aboard, had departed Torrance around 11:40 am PDT. Kramer had 231 flight hours and had moved to southern California within the last year from Spokane, Washington.
The cockpit crew of Flight 498 consisted of Captain Arturo Valdes Prom, 46, and First Officer Jose Hector Valencia, 26. The captain had 4,632 hours of flying experience in the DC-9 (technically referred to in an accident report as "in-type") and a total of 10,641 flight hours. The first officer had flown 1,463 hours in total, of which 1,245 hours had been accumulated in-type.
On Sunday, August 31, 1986 at about 11:46 am PDT, Flight 498 began its descent into Los Angeles with 58 passengers and six crew members on board. At 11:52 am, the Piper's engine collided with the left horizontal stabilizer of the DC-9, shearing off the top of the Piper's cockpit and decapitating Kramer and both of his passengers. The heavily damaged Piper fell onto an empty playground at Cerritos Elementary School.
The DC-9, with all of its horizontal stabilizer and most of its vertical stabilizer torn off, inverted and immediately entered a dive. It slammed into a residential neighborhood at Holmes Avenue and Reva Circle in Cerritos, crashing into the backyard of a house at 13426 Ashworth Place, exploding on impact. The explosion scattered the DC-9's wreckage across Holmes Avenue and onto Carmenita Road, destroying four other houses and damaging seven more. All 64 passengers and crew on board the DC-9 were killed, and fifteen people on the ground; a fire added to the damage.
Passengers and crew
Thirty-six of the passengers were citizens of the United States. Of the twenty Mexican citizens, eleven lived in the United States and nine lived in Mexico. One Salvadoran citizen lived in the Bay Shore area of the town of Islip, in Suffolk County, New York. Ten of the passengers were children.
Of the passengers and crew on the Tijuana–Los Angeles leg of the flight:
- Two passengers and six crew members boarded in Mexico City.
- Six boarded in Guadalajara.
- Thirty-one boarded at Loreto.
- Nineteen boarded in Tijuana.
Investigation and aftermath
The National Transportation Safety Board investigation found that the Piper had entered the Los Angeles Terminal Control Area airspace without the required clearance. The TCA included a triangular slab of airspace from 6,000 to 7,000 feet (1,800 to 2,100 m) altitude, reaching south to , across the Piper's intended flight path. The Piper could legally fly beneath this airspace without contacting air traffic controllers, but instead climbed into the TCA. The air traffic controller had been distracted by another unauthorized private flight – a Grumman AA-5 Tiger – entering the TCA directly north of the airfield, that also did not have clearance.
The Piper was not (and was not then required to be) equipped with a Mode C transponder, which would have indicated its altitude, and LAX had not been equipped with automatic warning systems. Apparently, neither pilot attempted any evasive maneuvers because neither pilot sighted the other aircraft, though they were in visual range. When an autopsy revealed significant arterial blockage in the heart of the Piper's pilot, public speculation existed that Kramer had suffered a heart attack, causing incapacitation and contributing to the collision; further forensic evidence discounted this, and error on Kramer's part was determined to be the main contributing factor to the collision.
As a result of this accident and other near midair collisions (NMAC) in terminal control areas, the Federal Aviation Administration required that all jets in US airspace be equipped with a traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS), and required that light aircraft operating in dense airspaces be equipped with Mode C transponders, which can report their altitude.
A jury ruled that the DC-9 bore no fault, instead deciding that Kramer and the FAA each acted equally negligently and had equal responsibility. U.S. District Judge David Kenyon agreed with the notion that the FAA shared responsibility. Federal Air Regulations 14 CFR 91.113 (b) require pilots of all aircraft to maintain vigilance to "see and avoid" other aircraft that might be on conflicting flight paths. The relative positions of both aircraft at the moment of collision showed no sign of any attempt at avoidance maneuvering by either aircraft.
One of the lawsuits involving victims on the ground had the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit apply the Supreme Court of California's ruling in Thing v. La Chusa to extend recovery for negligent infliction of emotional distress to Theresa Estrada, whose husband and two of four children were among the 15 on the ground killed in the crash. Although she did not witness the crash (which was a major requirement for recovery under Thing), she returned minutes after to witness her home consumed by fire and surrounded by burning homes, cars, and aircraft debris. In a separate trial on damages, the Estrada family was awarded a total of $868,263 in economic damages and $4.7 million in noneconomic damages, including $1 million for the negligent infliction of emotional distress.
The flight number has been put back into service. Flight number 498 is now the flight from Mexico City International Airport to McCarran International Airport via Monterrey International Airport using an Embraer 190 operated by Aeromexico's subsidiary Aeromexico Connect.
In popular culture
The Discovery Channel Canada/National Geographic television series Mayday featured the accident in a season 4 episode titled "Out of Sight". The accident was featured again during Mayday season 8, in an episode titled "System Breakdown".
The accident was featured on UK television channel "Quest" on July 16, 2014.
The program Plane Crashes That Changed Flying linked the advance of automatic collision warning and avoidance systems to various aircraft disasters, including the Cerritos collision.
A similar accident is seen in the Breaking Bad episode "ABQ". Coincidentally, the air-traffic controller in the real-life accident was named Walter White, the same name as the main character of Breaking Bad.
This accident was featured on the show “Air Disasters” Season 7, Episode 7 titled “Out of Sight” on the Smithsonian Channel.
On March 11, 2006, the City of Cerritos dedicated a new sculpture garden featuring a memorial to the victims of the accident. The sculpture, designed by Kathleen Caricof, consists of three pieces. One piece, which resembles a wing, commemorates all the victims who perished aboard the Aeroméxico jet and the Piper. A similar, but smaller and darker wing, commemorates all the victims who perished on the ground. Each wing rests on a pedestal that lists the respective victims in alphabetical order. In front of the memorial lies a bench, which commemorates all victims and allows visitors to sit and reflect on the disaster.
NTSB drawing portraying approximate point of impact
- TWA Flight 553, a similar crash that occurred near Urbana, Ohio, involved a new DC-9 and a small plane, which occurred in 1967.
- Piedmont Airlines Flight 22, a similar crash that occurred with a 727 involved in Hendersonville, North Carolina, in 1967
- Allegheny Airlines Flight 853, a similar crash that occurred also with a DC-9 involved in Fairland, Indiana, in 1969
- PSA Flight 182, a similar midair collision that occurred with a Boeing 727 and a Cessna 172 in San Diego, California, in 1978
- Proteus Airlines Flight 706, a similar midair collision that occurred with a Beechcraft 1900 and a Cessna 177 Cardinal over Quiberon Bay, Brittany, France in 1998
- "XA-JED Aeroméxico McDonnell Douglas DC-9-30". planespotters.net. January 22, 2012. Retrieved June 10, 2018.
- "FAA Registry (N4891F)". Federal Aviation Administration.
- "Jet, plane collide near L.A." Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). wire reports. September 1, 1986. p. A1.
- Ranter, Harro. "ASN Aircraft accident McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32 XA-JED Cerritos, CA". Retrieved August 31, 2016.
- "Airliners.net - Aviation Photography, Discussion Forums & News". Retrieved August 31, 2016.
- Collision in the "Birdcage", TIME
- Carollo, Russell; Caldwell, Bert (September 2, 1986). "Ex-Spokanite piloted plane that hit DC-9". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). p. A1.
- NTSB Report-87/07 Archived December 2, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
- located at these coordinates:
- "The Story of Cerritos: Chapter 8 1976–1986 -Growth, Development and an Unnatural Disaster". City of Cerritos.
- "Aircraft Collision Over Los Angeles Suburb", (diagram) Daily Herald (Chicago), September 2, 1986, p6
- "Collision Victims on DC-9." The New York Times. September 2, 1986. Tuesday, Late City Final Edition. Section D, Page 17, Column 5. National Desk.
- "List of Casualties on DC-9." The New York Times. September 1, 1986. Monday, Late City Final Edition. Section 1, Page 7, Column 1. National Desk.
- "Pilot of plane suffered heart attack". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). wire services. September 2, 1986. p. A1.
- Gerber, Larry, AP, "1986 Cerritos crash changed the way we fly," The Intelligencer Record (Doylestown, Pa.), September 1, 1996, p A-13
- "Jury Fixes Blame for Crash That Killed 82 – New York Times". Nytimes.com. Reuters. April 15, 1989. Retrieved November 13, 2013.
- Electronic Code of Federal Regulations, retrieved September 11, 2019
- In Re Air Crash Disaster Near Cerritos, 967 F.2d 1421 (9th Cir.1992)
- "AeroMéxico (AM) #498 ✈ FlightAware". Retrieved August 31, 2016.
- "Falling From the Sky". Mayday. Season 4. 2007. Discovery Channel Canada / National Geographic Channel.
- "System Breakdown". Mayday. Season 8. 2009. Discovery Channel Canada / National Geographic Channel.
- "Air Controller's Nightmare: 'I Lost an Airplane'". Los Angeles Times. December 3, 1986. Retrieved September 11, 2019.
- "13 Mind-Blowing Things You Never Noticed In 'Breaking Bad'". Tell Tales. telltalesonline. June 21, 2015. Retrieved September 11, 2019.
- "Breaking Bad / YMMV". TV Tropes. Retrieved September 11, 2019.
- "Sculpture Garden dedication press release". City of Cerritos. March 3, 2006.
- CARICOPsculpture (Archive)
- "Cerritos Air Disaster Memorial". City of Cerritos.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Aeroméxico Flight 498.|
This article's use of external links may not follow Wikipedia's policies or guidelines. (August 2016) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
- NTSB.gov, Brief of Accident, NTSB, adopted March 7, 1988
- AOPA.org, Collision Over Cerritos, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association
- NYtimes.com, California Jet Crash Led to Sweeping Changes The New York Times
- Story Of Cerritos – Chapter 8 (Aeroméxico Flight 498)
- Collision in the "Birdcage"
- DC 9 Crashes in Cerritos Residential Area. (Archive)
- Landmark Accidents: Collision Over Cerritos
- Out of Sight – Aeromexico Flight 498[permanent dead link]
- Accident details at airdisaster.com (Archive)
- Pre-crash photo of the airliner at airliners.net
- Accident description at the Aviation Safety Network
- Microfiche Details at AirFlightDisaster
- NTSB Safety Recommendation Letter (Alternate)