Aeroméxico Flight 498

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Aeroméxico Flight 498
The DC-9, missing its horizontal stabilizer as a result of the collision, plummeting into Cerritos
DateAugust 31, 1986
SummaryMid-air collision caused by pilot error on the Piper Cherokee and ATC error
SiteCerritos, California, U.S.
33°52′05″N 118°02′44″W / 33.86806°N 118.04556°W / 33.86806; -118.04556Coordinates: 33°52′05″N 118°02′44″W / 33.86806°N 118.04556°W / 33.86806; -118.04556
Total fatalities82 (including 15 on ground)
Total injuries8 (on ground)
Total survivors0 (on planes)
First aircraft
XA-JED Douglas DC-9-32 Aeromexico.jpg
XA-JED, the aircraft involved in the accident, seen in May 1982
TypeMcDonnell Douglas DC-9-32
Flight originMexico City International Airport
Mexico City, Mexico
1st stopoverMiguel Hidalgo y Costilla International Airport
Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico
2nd stopoverLoreto International Airport
Loreto, Baja California Sur, Mexico
Last stopoverGeneral Abelardo L. Rodríguez International Airport
Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico
DestinationLos Angeles International Airport
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Second aircraft
Piper PA-28-181 Archer II.jpg
A Piper PA-28-181 Archer,
similar to the aircraft involved in the accident
TypePiper PA-28-181 Cherokee
Flight originZamperini Field
Torrance, California, U.S.
DestinationBig Bear City Airport
Big Bear Lake, California, U.S.
Ground casualties
Ground fatalities15
Ground injuries8

Aeroméxico Flight 498 was a scheduled commercial flight from Mexico City, Mexico, to Los Angeles, California, United States, with several intermediate stops. On Sunday, August 31, 1986, the McDonnell Douglas DC-9 operating the flight was clipped in the tail section by N4891F, a Piper PA-28-181 Cherokee owned by the Kramer family, and crashed into the Los Angeles suburb of Cerritos, killing all 67 on both aircraft and an additional 15 on the ground. Eight on the ground also sustained minor injuries from the midday crash.[3] Blame was allocated equally between the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the pilot of the Cherokee. No fault was found with the DC-9 or the actions of its crew.


The larger aircraft involved, a McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32 with tail number XA-JED,[4] named Hermosillo, was delivered in April 1969 to Delta Air Lines as N1277L before entering into service with Aeroméxico in November 1979.[5] It was en route from Mexico City to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), with intermediate stops in Guadalajara, Loreto, and Tijuana.[6]

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 was piloted by William Kramer (53). His wife Kathleen and daughter Caroline were the passengers aboard. Their plane had departed Torrance around 11:40 am PDT. Kramer had 231 flight hours and had moved to Southern California within the last year from Spokane, Washington.[7]

The cockpit crew of Flight 498 consisted of Captain Arturo Valdes Prom (46), and First Officer Jose Hector Valencia (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.

Accident summary[edit]

On Sunday, August 31, 1986 around 11:46 am PDT, Flight 498 began its descent into Los Angeles with 58 passengers and six crew members on board. 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.[8] The heavily damaged Piper fell onto an empty playground at Cerritos Elementary School.[9][10]

The DC-9, with all of its horizontal stabilizer and most of its vertical stabilizer torn off, inverted and immediately entered a dive. It slammed into a residential neighborhood at Holmes Avenue and Reva Circle in Cerritos, crashing into the backyard of a house at 13426 Ashworth Place, exploding 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.[11] All 64 passengers and crew on board the DC-9 and 15 people on the ground were killed;[8] a fire added to the damage.

Passengers and crew[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 U.S. and 9 lived in Mexico. One Salvadoran citizen lived in the Bay Shore area of the town of Islip, New York. Ten of the passengers were children.[12]

Investigation and aftermath[edit]

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

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation found that the Piper had entered the Los Angeles Terminal Control Area (TCA) airspace without the required clearance. The TCA included a triangular slab of airspace from 6,000 to 7,000 feet (1,800 to 2,100 m) altitude, reaching south to 33°42′50″N 118°00′25″W / 33.714°N 118.007°W / 33.714; -118.007, across the Piper's intended flight path. The Piper could legally fly beneath this airspace without contacting air traffic controllers (ATC), but instead climbed into the TCA. The ATC had been distracted by another unauthorized private flight, a Grumman AA-5B Tiger, entering the TCA directly north of the airfield, which 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 pilot 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;[13] further forensic evidence discounted this, and error on Kramer's part was determined to be the main contributing factor to the collision.[8]

As a result of this accident and other near midair collisions (NMAC) in terminal control areas, the U.S. FAA required that all jets in U.S. 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.[14]

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.[15] Federal Air Regulations 14 CFR 91.113 (b) require pilots of all aircraft to maintain vigilance to "see and avoid"[16] other aircraft that 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 fifteen on the ground killed in the crash. In the TV show Mayday, Estrada reported she saw the explosion caused by the plane crash from a distance[17] (Thing requires the person be at the scene and be aware of the injury being caused to the victim[18]). She arrived minutes after to witness her 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.[19]

Flight number 498 was put back into service as a flight from Mexico City International Airport to McCarran International Airport via Monterrey International Airport, using an Embraer 190 operated by Aeroméxico's subsidiary Aeroméxico Connect.[20] As of February 2018, flight number 498 is no longer used. Aeroméxico still continues fly to Los Angeles, but now today as Flight 646, using a Boeing 737 Next Generation or Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

In popular culture[edit]

The Discovery Channel Canada/National Geographic television series Mayday featured the accident in a season-four episode titled "Out of Sight".[21] The accident was featured again during Mayday season 8, in an episode titled "System Breakdown".[22]

A similar accident is seen in the Breaking Bad episode "ABQ". Coincidentally, the ATC in the real-life accident was named Walter White, the same name as the program's main character.[23][24][25]


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.[26] The sculpture, designed by Kathleen Caricof,[27] 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.[28]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "XA-JED Aeroméxico McDonnell Douglas DC-9-30". January 22, 2012. Retrieved June 10, 2018.
  2. ^ "FAA Registry (N4891F)". Federal Aviation Administration.
  3. ^ "Jet, plane collide near L.A." Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). wire reports. September 1, 1986. p. A1.
  4. ^ Ranter, Harro. "ASN Aircraft accident McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32 XA-JED Cerritos, CA". Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved August 31, 2016.
  5. ^ " - Aviation Photography, Discussion Forums & News". Retrieved August 31, 2016.
  6. ^ Magnuson, Ed (June 24, 2001). "Collision in the 'Birdcage'". Time. Archived from the original January 27, 2008.
  7. ^ Carollo, Russell; Caldwell, Bert (September 2, 1986). "Ex-Spokanite piloted plane that hit DC-9". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). p. A1.
  8. ^ a b c "Aircraft accident report: Collision of Aeronaves de Mexico, S.A. McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32, XA-JED and Piper PA-28-181, N4891F. Cerritos, California. August 31, 1986" (PDF). National Transportation Safety Board. July 7, 1987. NTSB/AAR-87/07. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 2, 2007 – via
  9. ^ located at these coordinates: 33°51′55.76″N 118°2′23.97″W / 33.8654889°N 118.0399917°W / 33.8654889; -118.0399917
  10. ^ "The Story of Cerritos: Chapter 8 1976–1986 -Growth, Development and an Unnatural Disaster". City of Cerritos.
  11. ^ "Aircraft Collision Over Los Angeles Suburb", (diagram) Daily Herald (Chicago), September 2, 1986, p6
  12. ^ "Collision Victims on DC-9". The New York Times. September 2, 1986. Tuesday, Late City Final Edition. Section D, Page 17, Column 5. National Desk.
  13. ^ "Pilot of plane suffered heart attack". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). wire services. September 2, 1986. p. A1.
  14. ^ Gerber, Larry, AP, "1986 Cerritos crash changed the way we fly," The Intelligencer Record (Doylestown, Pa.), September 1, 1996, p A-13
  15. ^ "Jury Fixes Blame for Crash That Killed 82". The New York Times. Reuters. April 15, 1989. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 13, 2013.
  16. ^ "Electronic Code of Federal Regulations". Retrieved September 11, 2019.
  17. ^ "Devastating Collision On Flight 498 | Out Of Sight | Mayday: Air Disaster". Retrieved October 1, 2021.
  18. ^ "Thing v. La Chusa | Case Brief for Law Students". Retrieved October 1, 2021.
  19. ^ In Re Air Crash Disaster Near Cerritos, 967 F.2d 1421 (9th Cir.1992)
  20. ^ "AeroMéxico (AM) #498 ✈ FlightAware". Retrieved August 31, 2016.
  21. ^ "Falling From the Sky". Mayday. Season 4. 2007. Discovery Channel Canada / National Geographic Channel.
  22. ^ "System Breakdown". Mayday. Season 8. 2009. Discovery Channel Canada / National Geographic Channel.
  23. ^ "Air Controller's Nightmare: 'I Lost an Airplane'". Los Angeles Times. December 3, 1986. Retrieved September 11, 2019.
  24. ^ "13 Mind-Blowing Things You Never Noticed In 'Breaking Bad'". Tell Tales. telltalesonline. June 21, 2015. Retrieved September 11, 2019.
  25. ^ "Breaking Bad / YMMV". TV Tropes. Retrieved September 11, 2019.
  26. ^ "Sculpture Garden dedication press release". City of Cerritos. March 3, 2006.
  27. ^ CARICOPsculpture (Archive)
  28. ^ "Cerritos Air Disaster Memorial". City of Cerritos.

External links[edit]