Year
1978

Mid-air collision kills 153

A Pacific Southwest Airlines jet collides in mid-air with a small Cessna over San Diego, killing 153 people on this day in 1978. The wreckage of the planes fell into a populous neighborhood and did extensive damage on the ground.

David Lee Boswell and his instructor, Martin Kazy, were in the process of a flying lesson in a single-engine Cessna 1732 on the morning of September 25, practicing approaches at San Diego’s Lindbergh Field airport. After two successful passes, Boswell aimed the Cessna toward the Montgomery Field airport northeast of San Diego.

At the same time, Pacific Southwest Flight 182 was approaching San Diego. The jet, a Boeing 727, was carrying 144 passengers and crew members from Sacramento, after a stopover in Los Angeles. Though air-traffic controllers at Lindbergh had told Boswell to keep the Cessna below 3,500 feet altitude as it flew northeast, the Cessna did not comply and changed course without informing the controllers.

The pilots of Flight 182 could see the Cessna clearly at 9 a.m., but soon lost sight of it and failed to inform the controllers. Meanwhile, the conflict-alert warning system began to flash at the air-traffic control center. However, because the alert system went off so frequently with false alarms, it was ignored. The controllers believed that the pilots of the 727 had the Cessna in view. Within a minute, the planes collided.

The fuel in the 727 burst into a massive fireball upon impact. A witness on the ground reported that she saw her “apples and oranges bake on the trees.” The planes nose-dived straight into San Diego’s North Park neighborhood, destroying 22 homes and killing seven people on the ground. All 144 people on the 727 were killed, as well as both of the Cessna’s pilots.

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