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Coincidence or Fate? The Day The Music Died

by John M. White |

It's January 31st, 1957, and two aircraft are operating in the vicinity of the Pacoima Junior High School at 25,000 feet - one a new Douglas DC-7B airliner and the other an F-89 Scorpion jet fighter.

It is around the time students at the Pacoima Junior High School in Pacoima, California have just finished their outdoor activities and were heading inside the school when the sky fell in. Some of the youngsters were still outside finishing up before rejoining their classmates.

High above the school the Douglas DC-7B undergoing it's final test flight and the F-89 jet fighter collided, raining debris down upon the school play yard and the church next door. Two young boys were dead at the scene, a third died 2 days later, and some 74 more students suffered injuries ranging from critical to minor.

The Captain of the DC-7B, William Carr age 36, Co-Pilot Archie Twitchell age 50 (who made his first solo flight in 1923), Flight Engineer Waldo Adams age 42 and Radio Operator Roy Nakazama age 29 were all killed in the crash.

The F-89 tore the left wing off the DC-7B sending it into an uncontrolled spin and high velocity dive until the aircraft broke apart around 1,000 feet above the ground while the F-89 pilot died in the crash and the radar operator was able to bail out and parachute to safety.

Here is a newspaper clipping about this accident:

DC-7B F-89 Midair Collision January 31, 1957

For those of us who fly it is hard to imagine such a thing, but back in the day it was more common than it should have been. I recall a midair collision over the Grand Canyon, and the midair of a PSA 727 and light airplane over San Diego, while today there are many reports of near-misses.

In an interesting twist of fate

Depending upon your age, you may remember this fella: Ritchie Valens OK, if you are old enough you will remember the song "La Bamba" by Ritchie, and if you are a pilot from the 60s you probably remember the part of the song "American Pie" by Don McLean in which the words "The Day the Music Died" are sung. That was February 3rd, 1959 the day that Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly and "The Big Bopper" J.P. Richardson died in the crash of a 1947 Beech Bonanza 35 V-Tail. The pilot of the Bonanza, 21 year old Roger Peterson, worked for Dwyer Flying Service in Mason City, IA, had told his boss he would file a flight plan once in the air enroute to his destination. The airplane crashed 6 miles from the airport, and investigators concluded that the cause of the accident was pilot error (Peterson did not have an instrument rating, although he was working on it), a different attitude gyro from one Peterson was familiar with, and inadequate warnings about the weather along his intended flight path. What do these two accidents have to do with each other? Ritchie Valens a/k/a Ricardo Esteban Valenzuela Reyes was one of the boys at Pacoima Junior High School when the DC-7B and F-89 collided, killing 3 of his fellow students. Coincidence or Fate? What do you think? Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch!


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