PSA Flight 182 seconds after the collision with a Cessna 172
|Date||25 September 1978|
|Summary||Mid-air collision resulting from pilot error and ATC error|
|Site||San Diego, California, United States |
A PSA Boeing 727 similar to the one involved in the accident
|Operator||Pacific Southwest Airlines|
|Flight origin||Sacramento International Airport|
|Stopover||Los Angeles International Airport|
|Destination||San Diego International Airport|
A Cessna 172 similar to the one involved in the accident
|Operator||Gibbs Flite Center, Inc.|
|Flight origin||Montgomery Field, San Diego, California|
Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) Flight 182 was a Boeing 727-214 commercial airliner, registration N533PS, that collided with a private Cessna 172 light aircraft, registration N7711G, over San Diego, California, at 9:01 am on Monday, September 25, 1978. It was Pacific Southwest Airlines' first fatal accident.
Both aircraft crashed into North Park, a San Diego neighborhood. Flight 182 impacted just north of the intersection of Dwight and Nile, killing all 135 people aboard the aircraft and seven people on the ground in houses, including two children. The Cessna impacted on Polk Ave. between 32nd St. and Iowa St., killing the two on board. Nine others on the ground were injured and 22 homes were destroyed or damaged by the impact and debris.
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Pacific Southwest Airlines had begun operations in 1949 and was one of the first "budget" airlines in the US. By the 1970s, it operated with the slogan "The World's Friendliest Airline" and was known for its colorfully painted aircraft, flight attendants dressed in miniskirts and high heels, and humorous broadcasts by the crew over the public-address system. The airline also prided itself on its safety record; in 1978, it was entering its 29th year in business without a fatal accident. In 1969, an ominous incident occurred when a different PSA 727 collided with a Cessna 182L while taking off from San Francisco. The Cessna was forced to land, but no significant damage occurred to the 727 and it proceeded on its flight to Ontario.
On the morning of September 25, 1978, Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 182 departed Sacramento for San Diego via Los Angeles. The seven-person, San Diego-based crew consisted of Captain James E. McFeron (42); First Officer Robert E. Fox (38); Flight Engineer Martin J. Wahne (44); and four flight attendants. The flight from Sacramento to Los Angeles was uneventful. At 8:34 am, Flight 182 departed Los Angeles. First Officer Fox was the pilot flying. There were 128 passengers on board including 29 PSA employees. The weather in San Diego that morning was sunny and clear with 10 miles (16 km) of visibility.:2
At 8:59 am, the PSA crew was alerted by the approach controller about a small Cessna 172 Skyhawk aircraft nearby. The Cessna was being flown by two licensed pilots. One was Martin Kazy Jr., 32, who possessed single-engine, multiengine, and instrument flight ratings, as well as a commercial certificate and an instrument flight instructor certificate. He had flown a total of 5,137 hours. The other, David Boswell, 35, a U.S. Marine Corps sergeant, possessed single-engine and multiengine ratings and a commercial certificate. He had flown 407 hours at the time of the accident, and was practicing instrument landing system approaches under the instruction of Kazy in pursuit of his instrument rating. They had departed from Montgomery Field and were navigating under visual flight rules, which did not require the filing of a flight plan. Boswell was wearing a "hood" to limit his field of vision straight ahead to the cockpit panel, much like an oversized sun visor with vertical panels to block peripheral vision, which is normal in IFR training. At the time of the collision, the Cessna was on the missed approach (in visual meteorological conditions) from Lindbergh's Runway 9, heading east and climbing. The Cessna was in communication with San Diego approach control.:2
|Abridged communication between PSA 182 and the controllers, and among the PSA flight crew|
|# = Nonpertinent word; * = Unintelligible word; () = Questionable text; (()) = Commentary; Shading = Radio communication|
|PSA one eighty-two, traffic twelve o'clock, one mile northbound.|
|08:59:35||Captain (to San Diego
|PSA one eighty-two, additional traffic's ah, twelve o'clock, three miles ((five km))|
just north of the field, northeast-bound, a Cessna
one seventy-two climbing VFR out of one thousand four hundred
|08:59:39||Flight engineer||Yeah ((Sound of laughter))|
|08:59:39||First officer||Very nice|
|08:59:41||Flight engineer||He really broke up laughing|
I said so I'm late
|08:59:48||((Off-duty captain relays an anecdote until 09:00:10))|
|08:59:50||First officer (to San Diego
|Okay we've got that other twelve.|
|Cessna seven seven one one golf, San Diego departure radar contact,|
maintain VFR conditions at or below three thousand five hundred,
fly heading zero seven zero, vector final approach course.
|09:00:15||San Diego approach control||PSA one eighty-two, traffic's at twelve o'clock, three miles out of one thousand seven hundred.|
|09:00:21||First officer||Got 'em.|
|09:00:22||Captain (to San Diego
|Traffic in sight.|
|09:00:23||San Diego approach control||Okay, sir, maintain visual separation, contact Lindbergh tower one three three point three, have a nice day now.|
|09:00:26||First officer||Flaps two.|
|09:00:28||Captain (to San Diego
|09:00:34||Captain (to Lindbergh tower)||Lindbergh, PSA one eighty-two downwind.|
|09:00:38||Lindbergh tower||PSA one eighty-two, Lindbergh tower, ah, traffic twelve o'clock one mile a Cessna.|
|09:00:41||First officer||Flaps five.|
|09:00:42||Captain||Is that the one (we're) looking at?|
|09:00:43||First officer||Yeah, but I don't see him now.|
|09:00:44||Captain (to Lindbergh tower)||Okay, we had it there a minute ago.|
|09:00:47||Lindbergh tower||One eighty-two, roger.|
|09:00:50||Captain (to Lindbergh tower)||I think he's pass(ed) off to our right.|
(Due to radio static, Lindbergh tower voice recording reveals tower received "he's passing off to our right".):3
|09:00:52||Captain||He was right over here a minute ago.|
The PSA pilots reported that they saw the Cessna after being notified of its position by ATC, although cockpit voice recordings revealed that shortly thereafter, the PSA pilots no longer had the Cessna in sight and they were speculating about its position. Due to radio static, Lindbergh tower (as per the tower voice recording) received the 09.00:50 transmission as "He's passing off to our right" and assumed the PSA jet had the Cessna in sight, thus maintaining visual separation.:3
After getting permission to land, and about 40 seconds before colliding with the Cessna, the conversation among the four occupants of the cockpit (captain, first officer, flight engineer, and the off-duty PSA captain, Spencer Nelson, who was riding in the cockpit's jump seat) was, as follows, showing the confusion:
|# = Nonpertinent word * = Unintelligible word () = Questionable text (()) = Commentary|
|09:01:07||Lindbergh tower||PSA one eighty-two, cleared to land.|
|09:01:08||Captain (to Lindbergh tower)||One eighty-two's cleared to land.|
|09:01:11||First officer||Are we clear of that Cessna?|
|09:01:13||Flight engineer||Supposed to be|
|Between 09:01:15 and 20||Unknown||((Sound of laughter))|
|09:01:20||Off-duty captain||I hope|
|09:01:21||Captain||Oh yeah, before we turned downwind,|
I saw him at about one o'clock,
probably behind us now
Despite the captain's comment that the Cessna was "probably behind us now," it was actually directly in front of and below the Boeing. The PSA plane was descending and rapidly closing in on the small plane, which had taken a right turn to the east, deviating from the assigned course. According to the report issued by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Cessna may have been a difficult visual target for the jet's pilots, as it was below them and blended in with the multicolored houses of the residential area beneath; the Cessna's fuselage was yellow, and most of the houses were a yellowish color. Also, the apparent motion of the Cessna as viewed from the Boeing was minimized, as both planes were on approximately the same course. The report said that another possible reason that the PSA aircrew had difficulty observing the Cessna was that its fuselage was made visually smaller due to foreshortening. However, the same report in another section also stated,t "the white surface of the Cessna's wing could have presented a relatively bright target in the morning sunlight."
A visibility study cited in the NTSB report concluded that the Cessna should have been almost centered in the windshield of the Boeing from 170 to 90 seconds before the collision, and thereafter it was probably positioned on the lower portion of the windshield just above the windshield wipers. The study also said that the Cessna pilot would have had about a 10-second view of the Boeing from the left-door window about 90 seconds before the collision, but visibility of the overtaking jet was blocked by the Cessna's ceiling structure for the remainder of the time.
Flight 182's crew never explicitly alerted the tower that they had lost sight of the Cessna. If they had made this clear to controllers, the crash might not have happened. Also, if the Cessna had maintained the heading of 70° assigned to it by ATC instead of turning to 90°, the NTSB estimates the planes would have missed each other by about 1,000 ft (300 m) instead of colliding. Ultimately, the NTSB maintained that, regardless of that change in course, it was the responsibility of the crew in the overtaking jet to comply with the regulatory requirement to pass "well clear" of the Cessna.
Approach Control on the ground picked up an automated conflict alert 19 seconds before the collision, but did not relay this information to the aircraft because, according to the approach coordinator, such alerts were commonplace even when no actual conflict existed. The NTSB stated: "Based on all information available to him, he decided that the crew of Flight 182 were complying with their visual separation clearance; that they were accomplishing an overtake maneuver within the separation parameters of the conflict alert computer; and that, therefore, no conflict existed."
This was the conversation in the PSA cockpit starting 16 seconds before collision with the Cessna:
|# = Nonpertinent word * = Unintelligible word () = Questionable text (()) = Commentary|
|09:01:31||First officer||Gear down|
|09:01:34||((Clicks and sound similar to gear extension))|
|09:01:38||First officer||There's one underneath|
|09:01:39||First officer||I was looking at that inbound there|
|09:01:42||((Sound of thump similar to nose gear door closing))|
|09:01:47||((Sound of impact))|
|09:01:47||Off-duty captain||Oh # #|
PSA Flight 182 overtook the Cessna, which was directly below it, both roughly on a 090 (due east) heading. The collision occurred at about 2,600 feet (790 m). According to several witnesses on the ground, first, they heard a loud metallic "crunching" sound, then an explosion, and a fire drew them to look up.
Staff photographer Hans Wendt of the San Diego County Public Relations Office was attending an outdoor press event with a still camera and was able to take two postcollision photographs of the falling 727, its right wing burning. Cameraman Steve Howell from local TV channel 39 was attending the same event and captured the Cessna on film as it fell towards Earth, the sound of the impacting 727, and the mushroom cloud from the resulting crash. For its coverage of the disaster, The San Diego Evening Tribune, a predecessor to The San Diego Union-Tribune, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1979 for "Local, General, or Spot News Reporting".
The wreckage of the Cessna plummeted to the ground, its vertical stabilizer torn from its fuselage and bent leftward, its debris hitting around 3,500 feet (1,100 m) northwest of where the 727 went down. PSA 182's right wing was heavily damaged, rendering the plane uncontrollable and sending it careening into a sharp right bank (clearly seen in the Wendt photos), and the fuel tank inside it ruptured and started a fire, when this final conversation took place inside the cockpit:
|# = Nonpertinent word * = Unintelligible word () = Questionable text (()) = Commentary|
|09:01:49||Captain||Easy baby, easy baby|
|09:01:51||((Sound of electrical system reactivation tone on voice recorder,|
system off less than one second))
|09:01:51||Captain||What have we got here?|
|09:01:52||First officer||It's bad|
|09:01:53||First officer||We're hit man, we are hit|
|09:01:55||Captain (to Lindbergh tower)||Tower, we're going down, this is PSA|
|09:01:57||Lindbergh tower||OK, we'll call the equipment for you|
|09:01:58||((Sound of stall warning))|
|09:01:59||Captain (to Lindbergh tower)||This is it, baby!|
|09:02:00||First officer||# # #|
|09:02:03||Captain (on intercom, to passengers)||Brace yourself|
|09:02:04||Unknown||Hey, baby *|
|09:02:04||Unknown||Ma, I love ya|
|09:02:04.5||((Electrical power to recorder stops))|
Flight 182 struck a house at 3611 Nile Street, 3 miles (5 km) northeast of Lindbergh Field, in a residential section of San Diego known as North Park. It then impacted the driveway of the house at a 260 kn (300 mph; 480 km/h), nose-down attitude while banked 50° to the right. Seismographic readings indicated that the impact occurred at 09:02:07, about 2.5 seconds after the cockpit voice recorder lost power. The plane crashed just west of the I-805 freeway, around 30 feet (9.1 m) north of the intersection of Dwight and Nile Streets, with the bulk of the debris field spreading in a northeast to southwesterly direction towards Boundary Street. One of the plane's wings lodged in a house. The coordinates for the Boeing crash site are in the infobox. The largest piece of the Cessna impacted about six blocks away near 32nd Street and Polk Avenue . The explosion and fire from the 727 crashing created a mushroom cloud that could be seen for miles (and was photographed and filmed). About 60% of the entire San Diego Fire Department was ultimately dispatched to the scene, and first responders said nothing resembling an airplane was anywhere to be seen, since the impact, explosion, and fires had completely destroyed the 727 with no sizable components remaining except the engines, empennage, and landing gear. However, the impact and debris area was relatively small due to the plane's steep, nose-down angle.
The compression and G-forces resulting from the approximately 350 knots (400 mph; 650 km/h) impact speed resulted in a scene of incredible carnage as the passengers and crew were mutilated and dismembered. According to an NTSB investigator, "[The NTSB] estimated that that the 727 was going a little under 400 miles per hour (350 kn; 640 km/h) when it impacted that garage floor. This created a pressure wave that traveled back through the passenger cabin, ripping open the top right side of the passenger cabin like it was a bag of chips and then expelling everything out of that passenger cabin through the rip at over 200 miles per hour (170 kn; 320 km/h). This had an effect like a paper shredder. Of all the people who were aboard this flight, only four bodies were recovered completely intact. Solace can be taken in the fact that it is very highly unlikely that anyone in the passenger cabin survived the initial pressure wave when it hit them. Their death while a horrible thought was very very quick and everyone was already dead before their bodies were ejected from the plane and dismembered. The reports of body parts in trees and bushes are correct and were not exaggerated. Veteran news reporters that had thought they had seen it all in their careers could be seen throwing up in the gutters along with some police officers. An aircraft crash site is never pretty and is something you won't soon forget if you have the unfortunate luck of witnessing one, but this one goes down as probably the worst of the worst. The NTSB ended up having to send their investigators of this crash to psychiatrists after they concluded their investigation and I had read that the S.D. police and fire departments offered the same thing to their personnel who responded to this crash site."
The only intact bodies belonged to two flight attendants, First Officer Fox, and one passenger. Captain McFerron's remains were never identified.:8
In total, 144 people lost their lives in the disaster, including Flight 182's seven crew members, 30 additional PSA employees deadheading to PSA's San Diego base, the two Cessna occupants, and seven residents (five women, two male children) on the ground. With 144 deaths, it was the deadliest accident to occur in the United States, surpassing the 1960 New York mid-air collision, until eight months later when American Airlines Flight 191 crashed with 273 deaths. It is currently the sixth-deadliest aviation disaster in the United States (as opposed to terrorism), as well as the deadliest aviation disaster in California.
At the nearby St. Augustine High School, a triage and command and control center was established, with its gymnasium being used as a makeshift morgue and for forensic investigation.  Freezer units were used to preserve the biological remains, as San Diego was in the middle of a severe heat wave, with temperatures exceeding 100 °F (37.8 °C).
National Transportation Safety Board report number NTSB/AAR-79-05, released April 19, 1979, determined that the probable cause of the accident was the failure of the PSA flight crew to follow proper air traffic control (ATC) procedures. Flight 182's crew lost sight of the Cessna in contravention of ATC instructions to "keep visual separation from that traffic", and did not alert ATC that they had lost sight of it. Errors on the part of ATC were also named as contributing factors, including the use of visual separation procedures when radar clearances were available. Additionally, the Cessna pilots, for reasons unknown, did not maintain their assigned east-northeasterly heading of 070° after completing a practice instrument approach, nor did they notify ATC of their course change. Concerning this, the NTSB report states, "According to the testimony of the controllers and the assistant chief flight instructor of the Gibbs Flite Center (owner of the Cessna), the 08:59:56 transmission from approach control to the Cessna only imposed an altitude limitation on the pilot, he was not required to maintain the 070° heading. However, the assistant chief flight instructor testified that he would expect the [Cessna] pilot to fly the assigned heading or inform the controller that he was not able to do so."
A dissenting opinion in the original (more at bottom of paragraph) NTSB crash report by member Francis H. McAdams strongly questioned why the unauthorized change in course by the Cessna was not specifically cited as a "contributing factor" in the final report; instead, it was listed as simply a "finding", which carries less weight. McAdams also "sharply disagreed" with the majority of the panel on other issues, giving more weight to inadequate ATC procedures as another "probable cause" to the accident, rather than merely treating them as a contributing factor. McAdams also added the "possible misidentification of the Cessna by the PSA aircrew due to the presence of a third unknown aircraft in the area" as a contributing factor. The majority panel members did not cite this as a credible possibility. In an August 1982 amendment to the probable-cause finding, the NTSB adopted McAdams’ viewpoints regarding both ATC and pilot failings.
The report states that in the PSA cockpit, some conversation in the cockpit was not relevant to the flight during critical phases of the flight. The report states that the conversation was not a causal factor in the accident, but that "it does point out the dangers inherent in this type of cockpit environment during descent and approach to landing.":33
The two photographs of Flight 182 taken by Hans Wendt revealed that the left wing flaps were extended as the crew tried hopelessly to steer the crippled aircraft and that the right wing had a large piece missing where the Cessna had struck. Although it was obvious that the flaps were damaged or destroyed from the collision, NTSB investigators could not determine the condition of the hydraulic system in the wing and whether the plumbing inside it had actually been ruptured or merely flattened. Since the right wing was extremely fragmented, examination of debris provided no useful information. The crew may have tried to guide the 727 away from impacting a residential area and onto Route 805 where damage would be lessened,[failed verification] but could not do so, and the final conclusion of the NTSB was that even if the hydraulic lines in the right wing were undamaged, the missing flaps and spreading fire would have adversely affected the plane's aerodynamic profile and in all likelihood, Flight 182 was completely uncontrollable after the collision.:31–32
In the aftermath of the devastation on the ground, a controversy was renewed in San Diego over the placement of such a busy airport in a heavily populated area. Despite proposals to relocate it, San Diego International Airport, the busiest single-runway commercial airport in the U.S., remains in use. The crash site was cordoned off by police and remained so for an entire year.
At the time, PSA Flight 182 was the U.S.'s deadliest commercial air disaster, surpassed eight months later on Friday, May 25, 1979, when American Airlines Flight 191 (a McDonnell Douglas DC-10) crashed in Chicago.
As a result of the crash, the NTSB recommended the immediate implementation of a Terminal Radar Service Area around Lindbergh Field to provide for the separation of aircraft, as well as an immediate review of control procedures for all busy terminal areas. This initial rule did not include small, general-aviation aircraft. Therefore, on May 15, 1980, the Federal Aviation Administration, implemented what is called Class B airspace to provide for the separation of all aircraft operating in the area. Additionally, all aircraft, regardless of size, are required to operate under "positive radar control", a rule that allows only radar control from the ground for all aircraft operating in the airport's airspace.
At the time of the crash, Lindbergh Field was the only airport in San Diego County with an instrument landing system. Since the Cessna pilot was practicing instrument landings, the FAA quickly installed the system at Montgomery Field and McClellan-Palomar Airport, as well as a localizer approach to Gillespie Field, to allow pilots to practice at smaller airports.
As a result of this and other midair collisions (including an almost identical one in 1986) the "Traffic Collision Alert and Avoidance System" (TCAS) is now installed in all commercial passenger aircraft and in most commercial cargo airplanes. TCAS gives the pilots visual and audible warnings in the cockpit when two aircraft are approaching each other, and directs pilots to either climb or descend to avoid the other aircraft. However, the system only works if at least one aircraft is equipped with TCAS and the other with a transponder. After the 1986 Cerritos collision, all flights in Class B were required to have a Mode C transponder. The International Civil Aviation Organization does not require TCAS on the type of small, single-engined planes that were involved in the PSA disaster or the one involving AeroMexico. Only aircraft certified to carry 19 or more passengers or have a maximum takeoff weight of more than 12,600 lb (5,700 kg) are affected by the TCAS rule.
Because the PSA 182/Cessna collision was the result of pilot error, it is used as a teaching aid in modern flight training. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University uses the crash in "human factors" classes, with others refer to it while teaching airspace or visual separation rules.
The midair collision contributed to Lindbergh Field being ranked 10th among the world's Most Extreme Airports in a two-hour documentary of the same name released in July 2010, which aired in the U.S. on the History Channel.
A memorial plaque honoring those who died on both planes and on the ground is located in the San Diego Aerospace Museum, near the Theodore Gildred Flight Rotunda in San Diego's Balboa Park. On the 20th anniversary of the crash, a tree was planted next to the North Park branch library, and a memorial plaque was dedicated to those who lost their lives. The library is not in the immediate vicinity of the actual crash site; it has been completely rebuilt and bears no visible evidence of the crash. 
On September 25, 2008, over 100 relatives and friends of the victims of PSA 182 gathered at Dwight and Nile Streets in North Park for a 30th-anniversary memorial of the crash.
Depictions in media
The accident was covered in season 11 of the documentary TV series Mayday in an episode titled "Blind Spot". The episode featured interviews from witnesses and accident investigators and recreations of the crash.
The accident was covered in Smithsonian Channel's Air Disasters in the "Blind Spot" episode, season three, episode one.
The accident was covered in MSNBC's Why Planes Crash in the "Collision Course: episode, first aired April 27, 2010.
- Piedmont Airlines Flight 22, 1967 incident when a Boeing 727 collided with a Cessna 310
- Allegheny Airlines Flight 853, 1969 incident when a Douglas DC-9 collided with a Piper PA-28
- Aeroméxico Flight 498, 1986 incident when a Douglas DC-9 collided with a Piper Cherokee
- TWA Flight 553, 1967 incident when a Douglas DC-9 collided with a Beechcraft Baron
- List of accidents and incidents involving commercial aircraft
- List of notable midair collisions
- Aircraft Accident Report, Pacific Southwest Airlines, Inc. Boeing 727-214, N553PS, Flight 182, Gibbs Flite Center, Inc. Cessna 172, N7711G, San Diego, California, September 25, 1978 (PDF). National Transportation Safety Board. April 20, 1979. NTSB-AAR-79-5. Retrieved December 28, 2017.
- "Blind Spot"". Mayday. Season 11. Episode 8. Cineflix. January 27, 2012. Discovery Channel Canada.
- Shess, Thomas (June 29, 2007). "This Is It!". San Diego Magazine. Archived from the original on April 29, 2017. Retrieved December 31, 2017.
- Pulitzer Prize Award Winners 1979 by The Pulitzer Prizes
- Steinberg, James (September 21, 1998). "Lessons from disaster". SignOnSanDiego.com. Archived from the original on September 25, 2008. Retrieved August 27, 2018.
- PSA Flight 182 & 1771 Memorial Page Archived July 19, 2009, at the Wayback Machine by JetPSA
- The St. Augustine High School Gym Morgue by Sarah Luibel at SignOnSanDiego.com
- "FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996" (PDF). Federal Aviation Administration. p. 203. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 24, 2008.
- Facts about San Diego International Airport by San Diego County Regional Airport Authority hosted by Internet Archive
- Ranter, Harro. "ASN Aircraft accident McDonnell Douglas DC-10-10 N110AA Chicago-O'Hare International Airport, IL (ORD)". aviation-safety.net. Retrieved September 12, 2019.
- "United Airlines Tests Anti-Collision Device With Initial Success". The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company Inc. November 19, 1987. ISSN 0099-9660.
- PSA crash victims remembered at morning service Archived May 4, 2009, at the Wayback Machine by Jeff McDonald at SignOnSanDiego.com Archived June 16, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
- Accident description at the Aviation Safety Network
- Article about Flight 182 – Pacific Southwest Airlines
- PSA Flight 182 & 1771 Memorial Page at The PSA History Museum
- San Diego magazine 20th anniversary article about the PSA Disaster - Archived copy from Wayback Machine
- "Death Over San Diego", Time Magazine, October 9, 1978
- 36th anniversary of Flight 182 North Park crash – KGTV
- PSA Crash Page with map
- Pre-crash photos of 727 N533PS
- Audio of communications between ATC and PSA Flight 182 - WAV file
- Air Tragedy Remembered Union Tribune Article about 30th anniversary tribute
- "Return to Dwight and Nile: The Crash of PSA 182" A 2009 documentary with eyewitness interviews