Transcribed from The Milwaukee Journal, Milwaukee, WI, June 10, 1971, p. 3:
Air Crash Linked to Acrobatics
From Press Dispatches
Duarte, Calif. — Witnesses to the fatal crash between a Marine jet fighter and a commercial jet airliner — including the radar officer of the military craft — say the Marine jet was performing aerial acrobatics just minutes before the collision Sunday.
The lone survivor of the crash, 1st Lt. Christopher Schiess, 24, who parachuted to safety, told the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that the pilot did a 360 degree roll at about 15,500 feet.
Safety Board spokesman Brad Dunbar said a 15 year old boy reported that he saw the fighter plane performing stunts and barrel rolls just before the crash.
Acrobatic flight within a traffic control airway would be in violation of federal regulations, said spokesmen for the Federal Aviation Administration and the Marine Corps. The FAA has said the airliner was in a control airway — airspace where at least one aircraft is under FAA control.
Fifty persons, 49 aboard the Hughes Air West DC-9, and 1st Lt. James R. Phillips, pilot of the supersonic Phantom, were killed when the planes collided about 12,000 feet above the San Gabriel Mountains 25 miles northeast of Los Angeles.
Schiess told a news conference Monday that the airliner hit the military craft.
Jeff Whittington, one of 60 witnesses to the collision, told investigators Wednesday that he and a friend saw the military jet “do a spiral and a loop and disappear behind the ridge where they crashed.”
“I saw the left wing of the fighter strike the center of the fuselage of the Air West,” he said. “The military jet went straight down.
Marine Corps sources discounted the report, saying pilots are highly disciplined, and aerobatics would have been a violation of strict flight doctrine.
Rep. Henry S. Reuss (D-Wis.), urged the Navy Wednesday to bar military flights from commercial flight areas.
“Such precautions must be instituted, and must be kept in force at least until fully satisfactory midair collision avoidance systems can be developed and generally installed,” he said.
Efforts to recover bodies of the victims have been hampered by heavy fog at the crash scne. Searchers also were searching the area for the DC-9’s voice recorder, which could provide a record of conversations in the cockpit just before the crash.
The bodies were being ferried out by helicopter. By darkness Wednesday only 34 had been recovered.