|At just after 9 a.m. on September 25, 1978, a Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) 727 with 127 passengers and seven crew hit a Cessna 172 on approach to Lindbergh Airport in San Diego. Both aircraft fell into the North Park area of the city. All 135 on the PSA plane and both on board the Cessna were killed on impact as were seven on the ground.
PSA Flight 182, a Boeing 727-214 was making it’s approach to Lindbergh Field, San Diego and had been warned about the Gibbs Flight Center Cessna 172.
David Lee Boswell, the 35 year old Cessna pilot, and Martin Kazy, his 32 year old instructor, were practicing instrument landings. The PSA had left Sacramenton at 7:20 and picked up additional passengers at Los Angeles and was at the end of its 30 minute flight to San Diego. The weather was clear and the visibility was about 10 miles — hardly ideal conditions for two aircraft under tower control to collide.
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Three minutes before the crash, the crew of the PSA are having a conversation about, among other things, insurance coverage for pilots who are killed in the line of work. The off-duty PSA crewmember in the cockpit says, “…we got this little thing in our mail box the other day about being able to sign away your ah [deleted from transcript] ya know, if your killed… it disturbs me, you know, ever after you’re dead, you can’t do nothing about it. You know, your wife is left with a hell of a problem…”
He continues, “I have $18,000, I just got my thing from, ah, got my information from, ah Aetna the other day… It sounded like a good deal to me at the time.”
At 8.59:30 a.m., San Diego Approach Control called the PSA to warn of traffic: “PSA 182, traffic twelve o’clock, one mile northbound.” The following is from the NTSB’s transcript of the tower and cockpit voice recordings (CVR). (Comments only heard inside the cockpit are in green.)
It is unclear whether the crew really sees the Cessna 172 or a Cessna 401 eight miles away.
With less than 30 seconds until the collision, both the Cessna and the 727 have been made aware of each other’s presence and the 727 has acknowledged seeing the aircraft and has been told by ATC to maintain visual separation (keep an eye on the traffic and don’t get too close). No accident should occur. However, it is unclear if the the Cessna ever saw the 727 as it was in front of and below it and had wings above the cockpit, making it difficult or impossible to see such traffic. It is also not clear if the PSA crew really saw the Cessna or if they saw another aircraft and believe it was the Cessna.
Is the first officer pointing out another aircraft that he has been watching and noting that there’s one underneath too? He must be because it should no longer be possible for him to see the Cessna virtually under his right wing. If he could see the Cessna, he’d surely warn the captain and take evasive action. Instead, witnesses said that the right wing dipped slightly and the Cessna pulled up – perhaps as a result of the aerodynamic forces between the two aircraft so close together.
The aircraft collided near 2,600 feet and both crashed in a residential area known as North Park. One hundred and thirty-seven persons, including all those on both planes were killed. Seven people on the ground died and nine were injured. Twenty-two dwellings were damaged or destroyed including the Stoudt family house (all four occupants were killed).
As is often the case with tragedies like this, it brought out the best – and worst – in the citizens of San Diego. An estimated 3000 people descended on the scene and some began looting the bodies and houses. Meanwhile, local establishments sent over food and drink for the rescuers while others went to blood banks to donate for what they hoped would be dozens of survivors.
San Diego Mayor (and future California Governor) Pete Wilson had been pushing for some time to have the airport moved away from the residential area. Instead, it was expanded.
The National Transportation Safety Board determined the probable cause of the accident was the failure of the flight crew of Flight 182 to comply with the provisions of a maintain-visual-separation clearance, including the requirement to inform the controller when they no longer had the other aircraft in sight. Contributing to the accident were the air traffic control procedures in effect which authorized the controllers to use visual separation procedures to separate two aircraft on potentially conflicting tracks when the capability was available to provide either lateral or vertical radar separation to either aircraft.
This was the first fatal accident in PSA’s 29 year history.
A photograph of this 727 in happier times is here.
Source: Adapted from National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report NTSB-AAR-79-5.
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