1986 Cerritos mid-air collision
The Hermosillo, missing its horizontal stabilizer, falls to the ground immediately after the collision.
|Date||31 August 1986|
|Site||Cerritos, California, United States|
|Total injuries (non-fatal)||8 (on ground)|
|Total fatalities||82 (including 15 on ground)|
XA-DEK, similar to the DC-9 involved in the accident, at Miami International Airport on August 3, 1975.
|Type||McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32|
|Flight origin||Mexico City International Airport
Mexico City, Mexico
|1st stopover||Don Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla Int'l Airport
Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico
|2nd stopover||Loreto Airport
Baja California Sur
|Last stopover||Gen. Abelardo L. Rodríguez Int'l Airport
Tijuana, Baja California
|Destination||Los Angeles International Airport
California, United States
|Type||Piper PA-28-181 Archer|
|Flight origin||Zamperini Field
Torrance, California, United States
|Destination||Big Bear City Airport
Big Bear Lake, California
Aeroméxico Flight 498, registration XA-JED, and previously registered with Delta Airlines as N1272 was a Douglas DC-9-32 en route from Mexico City, Mexico to Los Angeles International Airport, Los Angeles, California, United States (with stops in Guadalajara, Loreto, and Tijuana) on August 31, 1986. N4891F was a privately operated Piper PA-28-181 Archer owned by the Kramer family en route from Torrance, to Big Bear City, California. The two aircraft collided in mid-air over Cerritos, California, killing all 67 aboard both aircraft and 15 people on the ground. In addition, eight people on the ground sustained minor injuries from the crash. The cockpit crew of Flight 498 consisted of Captain Antonio Valdez Prom, 46 and First Officer Jose Valencia, 26.
Collision and crash
The Piper aircraft, N4891F, with pilot William Kramer (53) and two passengers aboard, had departed Torrance, California, at about 11:40 PDT. Kramer had 231 flight hours. At about 11:46, flight 498 began its descent into Los Angeles with 58 passengers and six crew members aboard. The captain had 4,632 hours' flying experience in the DC-9 (technically referred to in an accident report as "in-type") and a total of 10,641 flight hours. The first officer had flown 1,463 hours in total, of which 1,245 hours had been accumulated in-type. At 11:52, the Piper's engine collided with the left horizontal stabilizer of the DC-9, shearing off the top of the Piper's cockpit and decapitating the pilot and both passengers. The heavily damaged Piper fell onto an empty playground at Cerritos Elementary School, at these coordinates: 33°51'55.76"N 118° 2'23.97"W 
The DC-9, with most of its vertical and all of its horizontal stabilizer torn off, inverted and fell to the earth in a residential neighborhood at Holmes Avenue and Reva Circle in Cerritos, crashing into a house at what is now today 17914 Holmes Avenue, and exploded on impact. The explosion scattered the DC-9's wreckage across Holmes Avenue and onto Carmenita Road, destroying four other houses and damaging seven more. killing all 64 passengers and crew aboard the jetliner and 15 people on the ground. A fire sparked by the crash contributed significantly to the damage. When the air traffic controller assigned to Flight 498 could not find the aircraft on the radar, he called up an inbound American Airlines MD-83 for assistance. The pilot on American Airlines Flight 333 replied that he saw a large smoke plume off to his left, indicating that Flight 498 had crashed.
Breakdown of casualties in the DC-9
Thirty-six of the passengers were citizens of the United States. Of the Mexican citizens, 11 lived in the United States and 9 lived in Mexico. The Salvadoran citizen lived in the Bay Shore area of the Town of Islip, New York, U.S. Of all of the passengers, 10 were identified as children.
Of the passengers on the Tijuana-Los Angeles leg:
- 2 boarded in Mexico City
- 6 boarded in Guadalajara
- 31 boarded at Loreto Airport
- 19 boarded in Tijuana
Investigation and aftermath
The National Transportation Safety Board investigation found that N4891F, the Piper, had entered the Los Angeles Terminal Control Area without the required clearance. The TCA included a triangular slab of airspace from 6000 ft to 7000 ft altitude reaching south to 33.714N 118.007W, across the Piper's intended route; the Piper could legally fly beneath this airspace without contacting ATC, but instead climbed into it. The air traffic controller had also been distracted by another flight entering the TCA without clearance.
The Piper was not equipped (and was not then required to be) with a Mode C transponder, which would have indicated its altitude, and LAX had not been equipped with automatic warning systems. Finally, apparently neither pilot sighted the other aircraft because neither attempted any evasive maneuvers, even though they were in visual range. When an autopsy revealed significant arterial blockage in the heart of the Piper's pilot, there was public speculation that he had suffered a heart attack, causing incapacitation and contributing to the collision; further forensic evidence discounted this, and error on the part of the Piper pilot was determined to be the main contributing factor to the collision.
As a result of this accident and other near mid-air collisions (NMAC) in terminal control areas, the Federal Aviation Administration required that all airliners be equipped with traffic alert and collision avoidance systems (TCAS), and required that light aircraft operating in dense airspaces be equipped with "Mode C" transponders which can report its altitude.
A jury ruled that the Aeroméxico plane bore no fault, instead deciding that Kramer and the FAA each acted equally negligently and had equal responsibility. U.S. District Judge David Kenyon agreed with the notion that the FAA shared responsibility. However, given the relative airspeeds and attitudes of the two aircraft and the points of impact on each, the Piper would have been clearly visible from the flight deck of the airliner -- and within the normal visual scanning field of both pilot and copilot -- prior to the collision. Conversely, from the left seat of the Piper (the normal position for the pilot), the airliner would have been blocked from view by the right-seat passenger. Under the basic rule of See And Be Seen ("SABS"), pilots aboard all aircraft are required to watch for other aircraft which might be on conflicting flight paths. The relative positions at impact showed no sign of any attempt at avoidance maneuvering by either aircraft.
One of the lawsuits involving victims on the ground saw the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit apply the Supreme Court of California's ruling in Thing v. La Chusa to extend recovery for negligent infliction of emotional distress to Theresa Estrada, whose husband and two of her three children perished in the flames of her destroyed house. Although she did not witness the plane crash into her home (which was a major requirement for recovery under Thing), she returned minutes later to witness the home consumed in flames and surrounded by burning homes, cars, and debris. In a separate trial on damages, the Estrada family was awarded a total of $868,263 in economic damages and $4.7 million in non-economic damages, including $1 million for the negligent infliction of emotional distress.
The flight number has recently been put back into service. 
This crash was featured in the April 24, 2007 episode of the television show Mayday (Air Crash Investigation, Air Emergency) titled "Out of Sight" in the original and Air Emergency versions and "Collision over LA" in the Air Crash Investigation version.
On March 11, 2006, the City of Cerritos dedicated a new sculpture garden featuring a memorial to the victims of the accident. The sculpture, designed by Kathleen Caricof, consists of three pieces. One piece, which resembles a big wing, commemorates the victims aboard the Aeroméxico jet. A similar, but smaller, piece (which also sits atop a smaller pedestal) commemorates the victims aboard the Piper. A third piece, a bench, commemorates the victims on the ground. The bench also allows visitors to sit and reflect on the disaster.
The names of the victims are listed on the pedestals holding the two wing-like pieces. The smaller pedestal is dedicated "in loving memory" of those who perished on the ground, and the larger pedestal is dedicated "in memory" of those who perished aboard the two planes. The names on both pedestals are listed in alphabetical order.
NTSB drawing portraying approximate point of impact
- Allegheny Airlines Flight 853 - A similar crash that occurred also with a DC-9 involved in Fairland, Indiana in 1969.
- PSA Flight 182 - A similar crash that occurred in San Diego in 1978.
- Collision in the "Birdcage", TIME
- NTSB Report-87/07
- "The Story of Cerritos: Chapter 8 1976-1986 -Growth, Development and an Unnatural Disaster". City of Cerritos.
- "Aircraft Collision Over Los Angeles Suburb," (diagram) Daily Herald (Chicago), September 2, 1986, p6
- "Out of Sight," Mayday
- "Collison Victims on DC-9." The New York Times. September 2, 1986. Tuesday, Late City Final Edition. Section D, Page 17, Column 5. National Desk.
- "List of Casualties on DC-9." The New York Times. September 1, 1986. Monday, Late City Final Edition. Section 1, Page 7, Column 1. National Desk.
- Larry Gerber, AP, "1986 Cerritos crash changed the way we fly," The Intelligencer Record (Doylestown, Pa.), September 1, 1996, p A-13
- ReutersPublished: April 15, 1989 (1989-04-15). "Jury Fixes Blame for Crash That Killed 82 - New York Times". Nytimes.com. Retrieved 2013-11-13.
- In Re Air Crash Disaster Near Cerritos, 967 F.2d 1421 (9th Cir.1992)
- "Sculpture Garden dedication press release". City of Cerritos. March 3, 2006.
- [dead link]
- "Cerritos Air Disaster Memorial". City of Cerritos.
- NTSB.gov, Brief of Accident, NTSB, adopted March 7, 1988,
- AOPA.org, Collision Over Cerritos, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Aeroméxico Flight 498.|
- NYtimes.com, California Jet Crash Led to Sweeping Changes The New York Times
- Story Of Cerritos - Chapter 8 (Aeroméxico Flight 498)
- Collision in the "Birdcage"
- DC 9 Crashes in Cerritos Residential Area.
- Landmark Accidents: Collision Over Cerritos
- Out of Sight - Aeromexico Flight 498
- Accident details at airdisaster.com
- Pre-crash photos of the airliner at airliners.net
- Aircraft details at Aviation Safety Network