|Image via Wikipedia|
|Cerritos Air Memorial at Cerritos Civic Center|
By Randy Economy
Los Cerritos Community News
Los Cerritos Community News
We will gather to remember the day many of us will never forget.
Just saying or hearing the words of “Sunday, August 31, 1986 at 11:56 am” still sends a shiver up my spine and across my face.
August 31, 1986
AeroMexico Flight 498 from Mexico City to LAX was cruising over the clear Los Angeles basin when something went horribly wrong. The plane that carried 68 passengers was in the direct path of a Sesna Piper Archer that was being flown by a meticulous pilot named William Kramer.
Kramer was flying his wife Kathleen and daughter Carolyn to a regional airport in the nearby mountain resort of Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead when his small recreational aircraft clipped the tail wing of the inbound jet that caused both planes to spin into an uncontrollable spin.
Flight 498 crashed at Ashworth Place and Holmes Avenue and the terror reigned down from the sky into my quiet, pristine neighborhood. I watched in horror. How could this happen? At the time I was living in nearby Norwalk, where I was a candidate for Norwalk City Council, but was house sitting for my parents the Rosemary and my late father Dick Economy. I had attended a wedding the day before with several of my lifelong friends from Felson Street for Phil Wilson and his bride Blair. Just about the entire wedding party stayed overnight to celebrate the wedding. I was watching the Los Angeles Dodgers on television when all I heard what sounded like a car accident a couple of streets over.
When I leapt to my feet, I gazed outside my back yard and looked up and saw my life flash before my eyes. The Aero Mexico jet was out of control and heading right at me when I literally turned away and just waited in horror. As painful seconds past, the shadow of the massive jet rolled across 183rd Street.
The jet slammed into the street. It exploded like a bomb. The blue sky quickly turned black with smoke. I ran into the street and saw my friend Phil who had just said his “I Do’s” 18 hours earlier and we looked at each other. We didn’t say a word. Debris was falling from the sky. The piston of the small plane literally missed me by inches and embedded into my front lawn. A major part of the wing slammed onto Wilson driveway. Phil, a former standout quarterback at Cerritos High School, and who went on to play major league baseball for the Cleveland Indians, ran 200 yards down Felson to Holmes Avenue, and could not believe our eyes.
I was looking at hell on earth. We quickly grabbed hoses, the first fire truck from Stations 35 and 30 here in Cerritos was just pulling up. It was chaos. Explosion after explosion took place. Fuel from the jet and the gas lines from the nearly 20 houses that were destroyed on Holmes, Ashworth, Reva and Carnaby were bursting all around us. How could this be happening? Why here?
We tried to pull people from the burning houses to no avail, and we looked onto the roof tops and all over our neighborhood death and destruction was all around us.
My amazing neighbors like Gail and Marty Grossman, and Joe Dominguez, the late Richard Santana, Rigo Uribe, the Johnson’s, Apodaca’s, Slattery’s, Kobiashi’s, and Asa’s and so many more had our lives changed forever that day.
The media converged on us from all over the world.
We had survived while 82 people perished before our eyes.
My late father Dick, had a reoccurring dream for 18 years about a “plane” crashing into our neighborhood, and that a “part would land” in his yard. Incredibly, his dream became a nightmare.
My mother and father learned about the crash on Labor Day Monday. 24 hours had past. They were heading back from a three day weekend get-away to Rosarito Beach in Baja California with a long time friend.
As they were sitting in the long line of cars to cross back into the US, they heard about the crash on an AM radio station in a “Los Angeles neighborhood.”
When my dad heard it happened in Cerritos, he ran to a pay phone (no cell phones then) and called collect to our house. As I picked up the phone in our kitchen, the first words out of his mouth was “how close was it from us?”
I responded “around 15 to 20 houses.”
He asked, to the “east of Stowers?”
“No Dad, to the west by Carmenita.” He responded, “No, that can’t be, in my dream the crash was going to happen to the east of our house, over towards Marquardt Avenue.”
His words still embossed in my mind. Everyone who lived in Cerritos in 1986 will never forget that day, and the weeks and months that followed.
We went through this “inhumane” experience together as a community. I learned about life, and death, and what’s really important in life that August afternoon. I lived. My life was sparred.
This week I will attend the Memorial ceremony at the Cerritos Sculpture Garden at Cerritos City Hall, and will pause and reflect on the mystery of life and the blessing of having lived through this ordeal when so many of my neighbors did not.
There is a higher power. Just look to the sky above, and you will see miracles all around us in our community. God Bless!
Note: Randy Economy is a full time reporter for the Cerritos Community News. All Rights Reserved.