1986 Cerritos mid-air collision

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Aeroméxico Flight 498
Piper PA-28-181 Archer N4891F
A black-and-white photograph of the DC-9 missing its horizontal stabilizer as a result of the collision, plummeting into Cerritos
Accident summary
Date August 31, 1986
Summary Pilot error from incoming Piper and lack of automated collision warning systems
Site Cerritos, California, United States
Total fatalities 82 (including 15 on ground)
Total injuries (non-fatal) 8 (on ground)
Total survivors 0
First aircraft
Douglas DC-9-30 XA-DEK Aeromexico MIA 03.08.75 edited-2.jpg
XA-DEK (named Guerrero), similar to the DC-9 involved in the accident, at Miami International Airport on August 3, 1975 wearing the 1970s livery.
Type McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32
Name Hermosillo
Operator Aeroméxico
Registration XA-JED
Flight origin Mexico City International Airport
Mexico City, Mexico
1st stopover Don Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla International Airport
Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico
2nd stopover Loreto International Airport
Loreto, Loreto Municipality, Baja California Sur
Last stopover General Abelardo L. Rodríguez International Airport
Tijuana, Baja California
Destination Los Angeles International Airport
Los Angeles, California, United States
Passengers 58
Crew 6
Fatalities 64 (all)
Injuries (non-fatal) 0
Survivors 0
Second aircraft
Piper PA-28-181 Archer II.jpg
A Piper PA-28-181 Archer similar to the one involved in the accident.
Type Piper PA-28-181 Archer
Operator Private
Registration N4891F[1]
Flight origin Zamperini Field
Torrance, California, United States
Destination Big Bear City Airport
Big Bear Lake, California
Passengers 2
Crew 1
Fatalities 3 (all)
Injuries (non-fatal) 0
Survivors 0

The 1986 Cerritos midair collision was a plane crash that occurred over the Los Angeles suburb of Cerritos, California, on Sunday August 31, 1986. It occurred when Aeroméxico Flight 498, a McDonnell-Douglas DC-9, was clipped by N4891F, a Piper PA-28-181 Archer owned by the Kramer family, while descending into Los Angeles International Airport, killing all 67 people on both aircraft and an additional 15 people on the ground. In addition, eight people on the ground sustained minor injuries from the crash. Blame was allocated equally between the Federal Aviation Administration and the pilot of the Piper. The DC-9 was found not to be at fault.


The larger aircraft involved, a McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32 with tail number XA-JED[2] named Hermosillo, was delivered in April 1969 to Delta Air Lines as N1277L before entering into service with Aeroméxico[3] in November 1979.[citation needed] It was en route from Mexico City to Los Angeles International Airport (with intermediate stops in Guadalajara, Loreto, and Tijuana).[4] N4891F was a privately operated Piper PA-28-181 Archer owned by the Kramer family, which was en route from Torrance to Big Bear City, California. The Piper aircraft, with pilot William Kramer (age 53) and two passengers aboard (wife Kathleen, 51, and daughter Caroline, 26), had departed Torrance around 11:40 PDT. Kramer had 231 flight hours.

The cockpit crew of Flight 498 consisted of Captain Arturo Valdes Prom, age 46, and First Officer Jose Hector Valencia, age 26. The captain had 4,632 hours of 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.

Collision and crash[edit]

On Sunday, August 31, 1986, at approximately 11:46 am, Flight 498 began its initial descent into Los Angeles with 58 passengers and six crew members aboard. At 11:52 am, 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 Kramer and both of his passengers.[5] The heavily damaged Piper fell onto an empty playground[6] at Cerritos Elementary School.[7]

Simultaneously, the DC-9, with most of its vertical and all of its horizontal stabilizer torn off, inverted, immediately dived and slammed into a residential neighborhood at Holmes Avenue and Reva Circle in Cerritos, crashing into a house at what is today 17915 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,[8] killing all 64 passengers and crew aboard the jetliner and 15 people on the ground.[5] A fire sparked by the crash contributed significantly to the damage.

Breakdown of casualties in the DC-9[edit]

Nationality Passengers Crew Total
 Colombia 1 0 1
 El Salvador 1 0 1
 Mexico 20 5 25
 United States 36 1 37
Total 58 6 64

Thirty-six of the passengers were citizens of the United States. Of the 20 Mexican citizens, 11 lived in the United States and nine lived in Mexico. The Salvadoran citizen lived in the Bay Shore area of the Town of Islip, New York. Ten of the passengers were children.[9]

Of the passengers and crew on the Tijuana-Los Angeles leg:[10]

Investigation and aftermath[edit]

An annotated aerial view of the Aeroméxico DC-9 crash site

The National Transportation Safety Board investigation found that the Piper had entered the Los Angeles Terminal Control Area airspace 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 flight path; the Piper could legally fly beneath this airspace without contacting air traffic controllers, but instead climbed into the TCA. The air traffic controller had been distracted by another unauthorized private flight – a Grumman AA-5 Tiger – entering the TCA directly north of the airfield, that also did not have clearance.

The Piper was not (and was not then required to be) equipped with a Mode C transponder, which would have indicated its altitude, and LAX had not been equipped with automatic warning systems. Apparently, neither attempted any evasive maneuvers because neither pilot sighted the other aircraft, though they were in visual range. When an autopsy revealed significant arterial blockage in the heart of the Piper's pilot, public speculation existed that Kramer had suffered a heart attack, causing incapacitation and contributing to the collision; further forensic evidence discounted this, and error on Kramer's part was determined to be the main contributing factor to the collision.[5]

As a result of this accident and other near midair collisions (NMAC) in terminal control areas, the Federal Aviation Administration required that all jets in US airspace be equipped with a traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS), and required that light aircraft operating in dense airspaces be equipped with Mode C transponders which can report their altitude.[11]

A jury ruled that the DC-9 bore no fault, instead deciding that Kramer and the FAA each acted equally negligently and had equal responsibility.[12] U.S. District Judge David Kenyon agreed with the notion that the FAA shared responsibility.[citation needed] Federal Air Regulations 14 CFR 91.113 (b) require pilots of all aircraft to maintain vigilance to "see and avoid"[13] other aircraft which might be on conflicting flight paths. The relative positions of both aircraft at the moment of collision showed no sign of any attempt at avoidance maneuvering by either aircraft.

One of the lawsuits involving victims on the ground had 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 four children were among the 15 on the ground killed in the crash. Although she did not witness the crash (which was a major requirement for recovery under Thing), she returned minutes after to witness the home consumed by fire and surrounded by burning homes, cars, and aircraft 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 noneconomic damages, including $1 million for the negligent infliction of emotional distress.[14]

The flight number has been put back into service.[15] Flight number 498 is now the flight from Mexico City International Airport to McCarran International Airport via Monterrey International Airport using an Embraer 190 operated by Aeromexico’s subsidiary Aeromexico Connect.

In popular culture[edit]

The Discovery Channel Canada/National Geographic television series Mayday featured the accident in a season 4 episode titled Out of Sight.[16] The accident was featured again during Mayday season 8, in an episode titled System Breakdown.[17]

The accident was featured on UK television channel "Quest" on July 16, 2014.[citation needed]

The program Plane Crashes That Changed Flying linked the advance of automatic collision warning and avoidance systems to various aircraft disasters, including the Cerritos collision.[citation needed]

A similar accident is seen in the Breaking Bad episode "ABQ". Coincidentally, the air-traffic controller in the real-life accident was named Walter White, the same name as the main character of Breaking Bad.[18][19][20]


The Cerritos Air Disaster Memorial in the Cerritos Sculpture Garden

On March 11, 2006, the City of Cerritos dedicated a new sculpture garden featuring a memorial to the victims of the accident.[21] The sculpture, designed by Kathleen Caricof,[22] consists of three pieces. One piece, which resembles a wing, commemorates all the victims who perished aboard the Aeroméxico jet and the Piper. A similar, but smaller and darker wing, commemorates all the victims who perished on the ground. Each wing rests on a pedestal that lists the respective victims in alphabetical order. In front of the memorial lies a bench, which commemorates all victims and allows visitors to sit and reflect on the disaster.[23]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "FAA Registry (N4891F)". Federal Aviation Administration. 
  2. ^ Ranter, Harro. "ASN Aircraft accident McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32 XA-JED Cerritos, CA". Retrieved August 31, 2016. 
  3. ^ "Airliners.net - Aviation Photography, Discussion Forums & News". Retrieved August 31, 2016. 
  4. ^ Collision in the "Birdcage", TIME
  5. ^ a b c NTSB Report-87/07
  6. ^ located at these coordinates: 33°51′55.76″N 118°2′23.97″W / 33.8654889°N 118.0399917°W / 33.8654889; -118.0399917
  7. ^ "The Story of Cerritos: Chapter 8 1976–1986 -Growth, Development and an Unnatural Disaster". City of Cerritos. 
  8. ^ "Aircraft Collision Over Los Angeles Suburb", (diagram) Daily Herald (Chicago), September 2, 1986, p6
  9. ^ "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.
  10. ^ "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.
  11. ^ Larry Gerber, AP, "1986 Cerritos crash changed the way we fly," The Intelligencer Record (Doylestown, Pa.), September 1, 1996, p A-13
  12. ^ ReutersPublished: April 15, 1989 (1989-04-15). "Jury Fixes Blame for Crash That Killed 82 – New York Times". Nytimes.com. Retrieved 2013-11-13. 
  13. ^ http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?rgn=div8&node=14:
  14. ^ In Re Air Crash Disaster Near Cerritos, 967 F.2d 1421 (9th Cir.1992)
  15. ^ "AeroMéxico (AM) #498 ✈ FlightAware". Retrieved August 31, 2016. 
  16. ^ "Falling From the Sky". Mayday. Season 4. 2007. Discovery Channel Canada / National Geographic Channel. 
  17. ^ "System Breakdown". Mayday. Season 8. 2009. Discovery Channel Canada / National Geographic Channel. 
  18. ^ http://articles.latimes.com/1986-12-03/news/mn-522_1_air-traffic-controller
  19. ^ https://www.telltalesonline.com/15676/mind-blowing-things-you-never-noticed-in-breaking-bad/
  20. ^ http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/YMMV/BreakingBad
  21. ^ "Sculpture Garden dedication press release". City of Cerritos. March 3, 2006. 
  22. ^ CARICOPsculpture ()
  23. ^ "Cerritos Air Disaster Memorial". City of Cerritos. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 33°52′05″N 118°02′44″W / 33.86806°N 118.04556°W / 33.86806; -118.04556