Los Angeles Fire Department
Historical Archive

     March 1, 1978
     DC10 Crash

Culver City Tribune March 3, 1978

DC-10 crash kills 2 at LAX

By Karen Davis
Staff Writer

A Continental DC-10 on its way to Honolulu with 197 passengers and crew crashed on takeoff Wednesday killing two passengers and injuring at least 40 others, five of those critically.

These were the first fatalities at the LAX proper in its 50-year history.

Two tires blew out collapsing the landing gear and causing the plane to skid off the runway, tip over, break the right wing and catch on fire.

The entire left side of the plane was burned.

The 9:25 a.m crash occurred on the east end of the north runway, near Sepulveda Boulevard in Westchester.

The burned and blackened hulk was removed within hours to the runway's "threshold" where officials of the Federal Aviation Administration immediately began to go through the wreck, looking for the tragedy's cause.

An earlier report from the FAA said there had been voice communication with the pilot, Captain Gene Hershey, who decided to abort the takeoff.

Hershey was on his final flight before retiring after 37 accident-free years.

"He did a beautiful job," said one LAX official of Hershey.

"He has nothing to be ashamed of. He saved a lot of lives."

She added that the runway was torn up, and it appeared that Hershey had taken exceptional measures to turn the craft around, miss a car rental agency and outer runway markers--just a few hundred feet from busy Sepulveda Blvd.

The two victims, an unidentified man and woman, were found dead at the bottom of the front right wing exit chute, which had caught on fire.

Preliminary reports indicate they died while attempting to evacuate the craft.

A fire official said flames spread from the left side to the right side of the fuselage, engulfing the slides.

Officials withheld their identification pending notification of next of kin.

Flames were extinguished in six minutes, and the plane evacuated within a half hour.

The first fire unit to arrive at the scene was Crash 80, stationed at LAX. "As we left the station we could see a large column of smoke from the north runway. Flames were visible and I requested additional units," said Captain Robert E. Engle.

Units from Station 5 near Manchester Avenue and Sepulveda Boulevard and Station 95 next to the airport complex on Century Boulevard were among those first at the scene.

When the first unit arrived, the left side of the craft was engulfed in flame. No flames reached the cabin of the giant jet, according to a fire department representative.

Twenty-five fire rigs with 75 firemen under the command of Division Chief Willis Nelson responded to the scene. As of press deadline, units were standing by while fuel was transferred from the burned hulk.

Two victims were admitted in serious condition to the Burn Unit at Brotman Hospital in Culver City, Mary Comstock, 66 of the San Gabriel Valley, and Hugo Larson, 80, of Bethlehem, Pa. James Comstock, 67, was discharged with minor injuries, At press time it had not yet been determined whether any other victims were from the Los Angeles area.

Two victims, a husband and wife, from Denver, Colo., were taken to Torrance memorial Hospital. Inez Downing, 75, is in critical condition with burns over 80 per cent of her body. Her husband G. Ross, 76, suffered a fractured ankle.

No burn cases were taken to Centennial Hospital, which treated five victims. Injuries there ranged from "shaken up" to broken ankles.

Daniel Freeman listed three victims: a fireman with a case of smoke inhalation and two other possible cases of smoke inhalation.

Some 26 people were taken to Marina Mercy Hospital in Marina del Rey. Injuries were reported for seven, including Annie Ross, burns; Constance Devries, fractured spine; Catherine Smithson, fractured spine; and Joseph McPhillips, a spine injury.

Eight victims were admitted to Hawthorne Community Hospital in Hawthorne, seven of those in good condition. Daniella Bowen, 1, of Lawndale was admitted in good condition with burns and her grandmother, Delores Bowen, 43, of Redondo Beach, was listed in serious condition with second and third degree burns over 20 per cent of her body.

Also admitted were Carole Mason, 39, of Rolling Hills and Louise Buchanan, 41 of Woodland Hills. Ivanette Crawford, 19, of Redondo Beach and her five week old son were also admitted and discharged.

Morningside Hospital admitted three passengers all in satisfactory condition: Marie Fauser, 69, Peoria, Ill. with back and knee injuries; John Floyd, 76, Helena, Ark., with bruises; and Cassie Floyd, 66, a broken ankle.


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