Thursday, February 3, 2011

3 February 1957 “An Airplane Crash”

planecrash1 On January 31, 1957, a Douglas DC-7 operated by Douglas Aircraft Company was involved in a mid-air collision and crashed into the schoolyard of Pacoima Junior High School in Pacoima in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, California. By February 1, 7 people had died and about 74 had been injured due to the incident. A 12-year old boy died from multiple injuries from the incident on February 2.

Following the collision (of the planes), Curtiss Adams, the radarman aboard the eastbound twin-engine F-89J Scorpion, was able to bail out of the stricken fighter jet and, despite incurring serious burns, parachuted to a landing onto a garage roof in Burbank, breaking his leg when he fell to the ground. The fighter jet’s pilot, Roland E. Owen, died when the aircraft plummeted in flames into La Tuna Canyon in the Verdugo Mountains.

The DC-7B, with a portion of its left wing sheared off, raining debris onto the neighborhoods below, remained airborne for a few minutes, then rolled to the left and began an uncontrolled high-velocity dive earthward over Pacoima. The aircraft broke up at about 500 to 1,000 feet above the ground. Seconds later, the hurtling wreckage slammed onto the grounds of the Pacoima Congregational Church and the adjacent playground of Pacoima Junior High School, killing all four Douglas crewmen aboard. On the school playground, where some 220 boys were just ending their outdoor athletics activities, two students, Ronnie Brann, 13, and Robert Zallan, 12, were struck and killed by wreckage and debris from the crashing airliner. A third gravely injured student, Evan Elsner, 12, died two days later in a local hospital. An estimated 74 more students on the school playground suffered injuries ranging from minor to critical.

ronbrann bobzallan

This PAGE HERE has the actual clippings and article from the story that might be of interest to anyone.

buddy-holly-cricket An odd twist of fate concerning this accident concerns a student of this school who was absent as he was attending his Grandfather’s funeral. He was 15-year-old Richard Steven Valenzuela, who soon became known as singing star Ritchie Valens. Due to this incident he developed an intense fear of flying. After becoming famous he had to overcome this. Of course, the sad bit of irony is that he then, two years later, Valens, Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson) died in an Iowa plane crash. The event became known as "the day the music died" in Don McLean's 1971 hit "American Pie."

Prior to this crash there we no laws over such military test flights, but after this new laws were to be enacted. The incident resulted in over $10 million in lawsuits (that is $70 million it 21st century money)


  1. I never knew the whole back story, thanks for sharing. I grew up listening to all my parents' music and even though the day the music died happened 13 years before I was born, I always felt very connected to it. (And I had a lifelong dislike of the disco that set the backdrop to my childhood, lol)

  2. That's funny. Because my parents were so much older (in their 40's when I was born) that I grew up without any rock and roll really. My sisters (born in the early 1950's) left their old 45's and I used to listen to them sometimes in the summer on my little pink gingham record player that needed a penny taped to the handset. It was things like "My boyfriend got a Beatles haircut' and 'incense and peppermint'. But, for the most part the background music to my life was Benny Goodman, Ella, Lena Horn, Peggy lee and so on. Even my childhood records were those of my sisters from shows that were no longer on, some cartoon which I later found out was Leonardo Lion.
    Later, when trying to relate to others, they all had parents the age of my sisters and talked about the Beatles and other rock music. I guess I was born a time traveler.
    The first time I came across Harry Connick Jr. in the 1980's (he was close to me in age as well) I thought I had found a kindred spirit. Here was someone in my age group in the 80's playing music I could understand.

  3. Funny, son and I have just seen the movie "La Bamba", because we had translated the song "The Day the Music Died" and I've told him the story. I love the song and the movie, you almost cry at the end and the music is SO good. Son has played the record on and on.

  4. That is great, Sanne. I have never seen La Bamba, and will have to wait until after 57, I suppose, as he is not as yet a star, but a mere teenage school student now.
    That is fun that you translated the song. Do you still try to make it rhyme or would that be impossible to do?

  5. Wow, looking at that woman's site is just heartbreaking. I've read a lot about the crash, but her site gives you actual memories, horrible as they are.

  6. I know, the photo of the mother crying is heart wrenching. Yet it is well done and would have been as I would have most likely seen it in papers here in 1957. Sad, sad indeed.

  7. I have tears in my eyes as I read this tragedy that occured so long ago, my little boy will soon be 10 and it hits really close to home.

    I loved listening to Ritchie Valens as a teen back in the late eighties, and watched the movie in La Bamba, I cried in the end.

    How ironic to escape one tragedy just to have to die in a plane crash at such a young age.

    Truly a waste. Very sad indeed.

    Mom in Canada

  8. The La Bamba movie is made in 1987 (I'm quite sure), but it is very well made, and very recommendable - if you could take a break from the fifties (hop into your time machine for a short visit), you should see it. :)

    No, we just translated it and talked about the meaning. I don't have enough talent to make it rhyme too.

    Wishing you both a lovely weekend. :)

  9. What an interesting story. As a pilot I knew about the Valens, Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper accident but not the history behind it.

    I guess Valens should have stuck to flying rubber band powered airplanes instead of real airplanes.

    Thanks for the interesting info.


 Search The Apron Revolution