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PSA 727 Crashes Into San Diego After Collision

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.

(Be sure to check out our map at the bottom of the page.)

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.)

8.59:35 PSA Crew to Tower: “We’re looking.”
8:59:36 Captain McFeron: “Go ahead and give the off report from LA to San Diego then [responding to humorous conversation still taking place in cockpit]”
8:59:39 Flight Engineer Wahne: “Yeah [sound of laugher]”
8:59:39 First Officer Fox: “Very nice
8:59:39 San Diego Approach Control: “PSA 182, additional traffic’s, ah, twelve o’clock, three miles just north of the field northeastbound. A Cessna 172 climbing VFR [visual flight rules] out of one thousand four hundred.”
8:59:41 Flight Engineer Wahne: “We really broke up laughing I said so I’m late.
8:59:48 PSA Employee in Cockpit: “Yesterday we took off out of San Francisco… [story continues until 9:00:10 followed by laughter]
8:59:50 PSA Crew to Tower: “Okay, we’ve got that other twelve.”
8:59:57 San Diego Approach Control: “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,
9:00:15 San Diego Approach Control: “PSA 182, traffic’s at twelve o’clock, three miles out of one thousand seven hundred.”
9:00:21 First Officer Fox: “Got ’em.”
9:00:22 PSA Crew to Tower: “Traffic in sight.”

It is unclear whether the crew really sees the Cessna 172 or a Cessna 401 eight miles away.

9:00:23 San Diego Approach Control: “Okay, sir, maintain visual separation, contact Lindbergh tower one three three point three, have a nice day now.”
9:00:26 First Officer Fox: “Flaps two.”
9:00:28 PSA Crew to Tower: “Okay”
9:00:31 Miramar Naval Station ATC: “Cessna one one golf and traffic’s at six o’clock two miles eastbound PSA jet inbound to Lindbergh out of three thousand two hundred has you in sight.”

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.

9:00:34 PSA Crew to Tower: “Lindbergh PSA 182 downwind.”
9:00:38 Lindbergh Tower: “PSA 182, Lindbergh tower, ah, traffic twelve o’clock one mile a Cessna.”
9:00:41 First Officer Fox: “Flaps five.”
9:00:43 Captain McFeron: “Is that the one (we’re) looking at?
9:00:43 First Officer Fox: “Yeah, but I don’t see him now.”
9:00:44 PSA Crew to Tower: “Okay, we had it there a minute ago.”
9:00:47 Lindbergh Tower: “182, roger.”
9:00:50 PSA Crew to Tower: “I think he’s pass(sed) off to our right.”
9:00:51 Lindbergh Tower: “Yeah.”
9:00:52 Captain McFeron: “He was right over here a minute ago.”
9:00:53 Lindbergh Tower: “How far are you going to take your downwind 182, company traffic (another PSA jet) is waiting for departure.”
9:00:57 PSA Crew to Tower: “Ah probably about three to four miles.”
9:00:59 Lindbergh Tower: “Okay.”
9:01:07 Lindbergh Tower: “PSA 182, cleared to land.”
9:01:08 PSA Crew to Tower: “182’s cleared to land.”
9:01:11 First Officer Fox: “Are we clear of that Cessna?
9:01:13 Flight Engineer Wahne: “Suppose to be.
9:01:14 Captain McFeron: “I guess.
9:01:15 [sound of laughter]
9:01:20 PSA Employee in Cockpit: “I hope.”
9:01:21 Captain McFeron: “Oh yeah, before we turned downwind, I saw him about one o’clock, probably behind us now.”
9:01:31 First Officer Fox: “Gear down.”
9:01:38 First Officer Fox: “There’s one underneath.”
9:01:39 First Officer Fox: “I was looking at that inbound there.”

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.

9:01:45 Captain McFeron: “Whoop!
9:01:46 First Officer Fox: “Aghhh!
9:01:47 Miramar Naval Station: “Cessna one one golf a traffic ah in your vicinity a PSA jet has you in sight he’s descending for Lindbergh.”
9:01:47 [Sound of impact]
9:01:47 PSA Employee in Cockpit: “Oh [two deleted words]”
9:01:49 Captain McFeron: “Easy baby, easy baby.”
9:01:51 Captain McFeron: “What have we got here?
9:01:52 First Officer Fox: “It’s bad.”
9:01:53 First Officer Fox: “We’re hit man, we are hit.”
9:01:56 PSA Crew to Tower: “Tower, we’re going down, this is PSA.”
9:01:57 Lindbergh Tower: “Okay, we’ll call the (emergency) equipment for you.”
9:01:58 Unidentified PSA crewmember: “Whoo!
9:01:58 [Sound of stall warning]
9:01:59 Unidentified PSA crewmember: “Bob.”
9:02:00 Unidentified PSA crewmembers: “[several deleted words from two crewmembers]”
9:02:03 Captain McFeron: “Brace yourself.
9:02:04 Unidentified PSA crewmember: “Hey baby…
9:02:04 Unidentified PSA crewmember: “Ma, I love yah.”
9:02:04.5 [End of recording]

B727/C172

This image was created from separate unrelated photos to show approximately where the aircraft were just prior to impact (with the PSA overtaking the Cessna). Note the high wings on the Cessna. Also note the 727’s nose up attitude.

Images courtesy of AirNikon. Find more of his photos at Airliners.net.

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.

Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) 182 at a Glance
Airline Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA)
Date September 25, 1978
Flight number 182
Registration Number N533PS
Crew Fatalities 7 of 7
Passenger Fatalities 128 of 128
Other Fatalities 7 on ground + 2 in the Cessna 172
Total Fatalities 135 of 135 + 9 = 144

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