Thirty years ago today, August 31, 1986, my friend and I were outside in our front yard in Cerritos, CA. It was a beautiful Sunday morning. The middle of a Labor Day weekend. Not a cloud in the sky. Not a care in the world—until tragedy struck.
My friend and I were talking when we heard a loud noise. We looked up and saw an airliner falling upside down from the sky. The plane came straight down and crashed less than 2 miles from our home and just on the other side of Carmenita Rd. where my in-laws and our friends lived.
Later, we learned that the small Piper plane clipped the rear of an Aeromexico airliner on its landing approach to LAX. That Piper plane landed across the street where our daughter had gone to the Lutheran grade school. The pilot of the Piper plane and the FAA was eventually cited as equally negligent and shared equal responsibility; yet, unknown to this day, is the actual cause of why the pilot of the Piper plane was in a flight restricted area and why he did no see the airliner on a perfectly clear day.
On that fateful day, I recall three families One was the American Indian family. The entire family and the friends they had over to enjoy the Labor Day holiday perished. According to their customs, those who died had to be buried within four days. I don't recall if they were able to ; however, the authorities certainly did their best to identify all the bodies and turn the remains over to the surviving family members.
I'm not sure if my recollections are factual or not; however, I recall there was a Hispanic family where half the family were in one part of their home and the other were in another. While the one part of the family, I believe the mother and one or two of the children survived while the other half of the family was killed in the crash. At least this is how I remembered it.
The most heartbreaking was the husband who was on TV, pleading to find his wife hoping beyond hope that she had survived. She didn't. I believe he had gone to the nearby drug store when tragedy struck. I also recalled that their son was a student at Cerritos High School.
It was not only a shock for those who survived, but also for those who had to work the scene. One of the members of our recently formed Rotary club worked for Southern California Edison. It was difficult for him, as it was for everyone else who worked to restore the utilities, clean up and remove the debris, and especially searching for bodies and body parts. If I recall correctly, he resigned from the club and move away less than a year later.
The Cerritos disaster was our own 9/11. I'm sure many, including those not directly tied to the disaster, were emotionally affected for weeks and even months later. I was. A month after the disaster, my wife (who was in Vancouver with our daughter at the time) and I took a walk to and around Regional Park. After returning home, I asked her if she heard any planes flying over. She did not. During the 30 minute walk, I heard 33 airliners flying over the Cerritos area. It was not that I was consciously counting. I wasn't. I was so sensitized that I couldn't help but hear every single plane flying over.
A couple of months after that, I was watching the movie, The Concorde ... Airport '79 on TV. There was a scene in the movie when the pilot banked the Concorde more than 30 degrees to avoid a missile. The movie scene showed the passengers screaming and the baggage dumping out of the overhead compartments. I couldn't watch that scene. I immediately left and went to my bedroom, locked the door and cried my heart out. That scene reminded me of the unimaginable reality of what the passengers and crew of the Areomexico flight must have gone through during those precious seconds before they perished. Especially for the pilots who saw what was coming. There were reports that the pilots may have seen a boy in the path of collision and they revved the engines to avoid the boy even as they knew they had only a few seconds before they perished. Though I am no longer sensitized to all the flights passing over on the way to Long Beach or LAX, my memories of that day will live with me until I die.
Frank S. Adamo is a writer and blogger. He is also the founder of Embrace Our Heritage, an organization dedicated to reuniting families through family stories, modern technology, and support. He also assist others to create Living Legacies for their children and future generations. To download a free e-book, click Family History Search. Click Subscribe to subscribe to Frank's newsletters/blogs.