Transcribed from The Deseret News, Salt Lake City, UT, June 10, 1971, pp. 1, A-7:
Marine Plane Rolled Just Before Collision
Combined Wire Services
DUARTE, CALIF. — One minutes before a Marine jet fighter and a commercial airliner collided in flight killing 50 persons near here, the military craft executed a 360-degree roll, the sole survivor of the collision told investigators Wednesday.
Brad Dunbar, spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board team investigating Sunday’s collision, reported that Marine Lt. Christopher Schiess, 24, radar officer of the craft, who parachuted to safety, said the roll was performed at about 15,500 feet.
Dunbar said Schiess’ full statement would not be released. No other details were disclosed.
The collision occurred at about 12,000 feet in a much-traveled air corridor used by commercial flights out of Los Angeles International Airport. The Air West DC9 was being controlled by radar while the Phantom F4 figher-bomber was on a “see and be seen” or visual flight operation.
Maj. Michael Fibisch, public affairs officer at El Toro Marine Air Station where the fighter was based, declined to remark on Schiess’ statement.
However he did say that aerial acrobatics, such as a 360-degree roll, in commercial air corridors are “definitely not” permissible.
Such acrobatics are permisible in some areas such as over the ocean and “outside of any air routes” but “quite a recognized distance away from any trafficked areas,” he said.
Horace Keene, Federal Aviation Administration officer in Los Angeles, was asked about rules covering acrobatics in trafficked areas.
“I’m sure there are regulations covering it, but I’m not sure what they are,” he replied.
Keene did say the area where the collision occurred “was a controlled airspace.”
Earlier in the day in a signed statement, a 15-year-old boy said he saw the Marine fighter doing stunts just before it collided with the Air West jetliner.
Jeff Whittington, 15, was one of 60 eyewitnesses to the collision being interviewed by safety team members, whose task is to determine what caused the crash and who was responsible.
Whittington said he and a friends [sic] 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.”
In Washington, Rep. Sherman P. Lloyd, R-Utah, says high-speed military aircraft flying near heavily used commercial air routes around major airports should be required to establish contact with airport radar facilities.
Lloyd said such a rule might help prevent the recurrence of mishaps similar to the one Sunday near Los Angeles.
Thirteen of those killed were from Utah and seven from Idaho.
“It is not known what circumstances led to the collision Sunday or who, if anyone, was at fault,” Lloyd said.
“However,” he added, “it has been brought to my attention by Utah aeronautics officials that military aircraft operating under visual flight rules are not required to report to Federal Aviation Administration air traffic control facilities when entering crowded airways.”
The congressman said many military pilots do so on their own, but said the procedure “should be made a hard, fast rule.”
Lloyd asked Transportation Secretary John Volpe to study his proposal.
Another congressman, Rep. Henry S. Reuss, D-Wis., wants the Navy to bar military flights from commercial flight areas.
In a letter to Navy Secretary John H. Chafee, Reuss Wednesday urged the Navy “to keep military flights under your command away from areas surrounding commercial airports, and out of heavily traveled commercial flight paths.”
And aide said the congressman meant flight paths immediately surrounding commercial airports which commercial planes use for take-offs and for landing approaches.
“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.”
In Idaho, it was reported the F4 Phantom jet involved in the collision stopped at the Mountain Home Air Force Base for several hours prior to the collision.
Lt. Bill Poythress, a public information officer at the base, said the jet stopped at the Idaho base on a flight from McCord AFB, Wash.
Poythress said he did not know whether repairs were made on the craft at Mountain Home, as some sources have indicated, because the Federal Aviation Agency has impounded all records of the jet’s stopover.
“It’s not unordinary for jet flights of this nature to set down at Mountain Home,” said Poythress. He said pilots logging hours often will land for a couple of hours for various reasons.
The Marine jet flew from Mountain Home to Fallon Naval Air Station, Nev., before proceeding en route to El Toro Naval Air Base near Los Angeles.
Efforts to recover bodies of the victims of Sunday’s crash have been hampered by heavy fog at the crash scene — the 3,600-foot level of rugged Mt. Bliss in the San Gabriel Mountains 40 miles from Los Angeles.
The bodies were being ferried out by helicopter, and by darkness Wednesday only 34 had been recovered and only 11 of those identified.