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Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

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Plane crash kills 4

 

1957_0610_hed_times_2

9410_gullo_ambulance June 10, 1957
Los Angeles

The street is quiet and the house is unremarkable. A neighbor's small collection of emergency vehicles might be the only unintentional clue that something terrible ever happened on Gullo Avenue.

The death toll would have been higher, authorities said, if pilot Harry Smith of Chico hadn't cut the ignition on the Piper Tri-Pacer moments before it went down over Pacoima, hitting the edge of a home where the Worth family was having a birthday party.

In addition to Smith, who owned a construction company, the crash killed Terrence Lockhart, Robert Peterson and Owen Wallis. "Firemen had to literally tear apart the crumpled fuselage to reach the bodies of the victims," The Times said.

 

9410_gullo_house

Photographs by Larry Harnisch Los Angeles Times
9410 Gullo Ave., Pacoima, Calif.

Ed Rauch, a neighbor, said: "The plane was about 2,000 feet up when I heard the engine cough and I looked up. It went into a roll and one wing collapsed backward. Then it nosed over into a dive and the pilot gunned the motor, then cut it. The plane dived straight down. It was silent and kind of eerie. The pilot had no chance to guide it away from buildings."

Fortunately, the plane only clipped the edge of the home.  Five feet closer and it could have wiped out an entire family: Barry Worth and his wife, Mary; their children Katherine, Danny and Harold; Worth's sister-in-law, Erica, and his mother-in-law, Katie Bauchwitz, and father-in-law, H.E. Bauchwitz.

1957_0610_pix The fatal crash renewed calls for new flight restrictions for the San Fernando Valley, where a transport plane and a jet fighter collided over Pacoima on Jan. 31, 1957, killing three Pacoima Junior High School students and five airmen and injuring 70 others.

Other Valley plane crashes:

  • May 28, 1957: A plane crashes after taking off from Van Nuys Airport, killing the pilot.
  • Jan. 21, 1956: A plane crashes near Eton Drive and Richard Street in Burbank, killing the pilot.
  • Sept. 10, 1955: A plane crashes in Reseda after striking some power lines, killing the pilot and a passenger.
  • Jan. 31, 1955: A plane crashes near Lockheed Air Terminal, killing three people.
  • May 21, 1955: A plane crashes into a canyon in the Verdugo Hills, killing the pilot and passenger.

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Comments (7)

Was the Jan. 31 crash the one Richie Valens witnessed? Eerily foreshadowing his own death in a plane crash a short time later?

--Interesting question. Valens died in 1959. Let met get an answer for you.... Larry
--According to one of his classmates, Valens wasn't at school that day, as reported in "Then and Now," Jan. 28, 2007.

Yes, the Jan. 31, 1957, crash was the one. Richie Valens may not have witnessed it as he was at his grandfather's funeral that day but it was definitely part of the Valley consciousness.

As a 4-year-old, I saw the larger plane tumbling in mid-air from my vantage point in the front yard of our house on Dorrington Place in Pacoima.

--Thanks for sharing! Larry

I was in the 2nd grade at Terra Bella Elementary School at the time of the Jan 31, 1957 crash that hit Pacoima Junior High School. The two schools were next to each other. Our classroom, which was seperated by a chain length fence, faced the gym field where the plane crashed. I remember that the classroom next to ours was damaged by debris from the crash. Fortunatly the classroom was empty because the class was on a field trip at the time.

I was in the 7th grade when the DC-4 went over our class room (print shop) then barley missed the gym and hit into the gym field. If I rember right gym class had just ended and most of the kids were already in the gym, those that were killed may have seen the plane coming in and tried to run away from the gym building thinking that was where it was going to hit..
A neighbor boy was one of those killed that day

Allum of Beachy Ave Grade School

was in 3rd grade at St. Genevieve, was actually looking out a louvered window and saw the two planes come together and collide seeing only one flying off to the east. we all then heard the sound of the larger plane coming down at an increasing sound pitch, then absolute silence. then a small mushroom cloud appeared to the east/southeast from our vantage point. after school rode the bike the few miles to Pacoima Jr. High where I was interviewed by the authorities about what I had seen. remember hearing there had been an assembly that morning that saved many students who would otherwise been out on the field. some students said they could see the pilot wildly waving his hands telling them to get out of the way. also remember roofs of homes with burned debri and black marks on them and the grass school field where the engines were half-buried at the far end. and sitting on a curb looking at a section of airplane seating that still had not been cleared of a body part and other personal effects. it was a DC7 with a crew of 7 and carried no passengers, the plane was new, still qualifying as a passenger plane.

was in 3rd grade at St. Genevieve, was actually looking out a louvered window and saw the two planes come together and collide seeing only one flying off to the east. we all then heard the sound of the larger plane coming down at an increasing sound pitch, then absolute silence. then a small mushroom cloud appeared to the east/southeast from our vantage point. after school rode the bike the few miles to Pacoima Jr. High where I was interviewed by the authorities about what I had seen. remember hearing there had been an assembly that morning that saved many students who would otherwise been out on the field. some students said they could see the pilot wildly waving his hands telling them to get out of the way. also remember roofs of homes with burned debri and black marks on them and the grass school field where the engines were half-buried at the far end. and sitting on a curb looking at a section of airplane seating that still had not been cleared of a body part and other personal effects. it was a DC7 with a crew of 7 and carried no passengers, the plane was new, still qualifying as a passenger plane.

Pacoima Junior High 1957. Ritchie absent that day, I was not.

Almost all of us on the gym field that morning were 7th graders. I was one of several with critical 3rd degree burns. It took 3 months of hospitalization and multiple skin grafts to put me back together, plus more surgery each summer for the following two years.Forget kids getting morphine, Let us live with our memories of unabated pain. When we cried out in pain the hospital staff merey closed the ward doors to solve the problem.

I am commenting because it was not until 5 years ago that I went to the main branch of the Los Angeles Public Library and first saw news photographs of the crash scene. I was devastated all over again, but only emotionally. I am surprised that Life did not publish photographs of this DC7C blown to pieces 300 feet above us while containing its wreckage to a standard Jr; High size playground.

I did learn that President Eisenhower immediately issued an Executive Order prohibiting the testing of aircraft over populated areas. I found United States Army Aircorps Captain Archie Twitchell, pilot .of the DC7, last of the prop passenger aircraft replaced by jet engine powered passenger planes beginnibg that same year, buried in Burbank Ca, I was there when he and his 4 crew died but could never find relatives. He was from Oregon wand is notable for appearing in more that 50 movies before and after WWII including playing a detective in Sunset Boulevard. I had purchased a Gloria Swanson home in 1972 without know the indirect connection.

Aspects of this significant air disaster can be googled as Pacoima Junior High School plane crash 1957. There is an ambitious web site created by a former classmate who also was not there that fateful day of January31, 1957.

The sparsely populated San Fernando Valley, it is reported, drew 25,000 site seers to see the death, destruction and calamity.many of us were blocked from being transported to hospitals by the crowds which icontained many horrified parents.

Now Life has reported on this newsworthy event. I can rest now.

Wallace J. McCabe, PJHS 1969
Gualala CA.

The experience was frightening, painful and traumatic. No counseling ever for this and no pain killers.

I personally credit Sidney Thompson, my math teacher and later Superintendent of Education for Los Angeles City Schools with saving my life.


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