Air Crash Investigation: Collision Over LA (2005)

National Geographic

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Date Added: 12 years ago.

Documentary Description

Aeroméxico Flight 498, registration XA-JED, was a Douglas DC-9-32 en route from Mexico City, Mexico to Los Angeles International Airport, Los Angeles, California on August 31, 1986. N4891F, callsign Piper 4891 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. At approximately 11:46 AM, Flight 498 began its descent into Los Angeles with 58 passengers and six crew members aboard. Minutes earlier, N4891F, carrying a pilot and two passengers, departed Torrance. At 11:52 AM, the Piper collided with the left horizontal stabilizer of the DC-9; this sheared off the top of the Piper's cockpit, killing the pilot and two passengers. The DC-9 inverted and fell to the earth in the residential neighborhood of Cerritos, killing 15 on the ground and all 64 passengers and crew. Five homes were destroyed and seven damaged. A fire sparked by the crash contributed significantly to the damage. The heavily damaged Piper fell into Cerritos Elementary School's playground, but no one on the ground was killed. The National Transportation Safety Board investigation found that N4891F had deviated into the restricted airspace of the LAX Terminal Control Area. It was out of radio contact with air traffic control, which had been distracted by another flight entering the area. Moreover, the Piper was not equipped with a Mode C transponder indicating its altitude, and LAX had not been equipped with automatic warning systems. Finally, neither pilot had sighted the other aircraft, 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; however, 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 midair collisions (NMAC) in terminal control areas, the Federal Aviation Administration required all commercial aircraft be equipped with traffic alert and collision avoidance systems (TCAS), and required that light aircraft operating in dense airspaces be equipped with transponders that could report three-dimensional position.


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