Transcribed from Eugene Register-Guard, Eugene, OR, June 8, 1971, p. 4A:
Survivor says ‘airliner hit us’
The sole survivor of an aerial collision that killed 50 persons said Monday that if he’d had the presence of mind he might have saved the pilot of his jet fighter plane.
Marine 1st Lt. Christopher Schiess, 24, was prevented from discussing at a news conference details of the collision Sunday between the F-4 Phantom jet and a Salt Lake City-bound airliner with 49 aboard, but he did say:
“After impact–the airliner hit us–we tumbled violently four or five times. . . . If I had enough presence of mind I could have reached up and got that mechanism which would have ejected the pilot, but I thought he was already out.”
Schiess, a slender, blue-eyed radar intercept officer from Salem, Ore., said that as he parachuted he could see wreckage of the two planes plummeting earthward. He reached ground in 10 or 15 minutes and was found in a populated area, almost at once.
Schiess answered only a few questions at the news conference at El Toro, Marine Corps Air Station, his home base. His commanding officer and the base legal officer, both advised him to remain silent to most queries, as he will be a witness before a National Transportation Safety Board Inquiry into [the] cause of the collision.
The Marine Corps plans its own investigation, too.
The twin-engine Air West jet, carrying 44 passengers and a crew of five, exploded and burned in a dive from 12,000 feet after the collision.
The wreckage, at the bottom of a 2,000-foot-deep gorge, yielded the bodies of 22 persons Monday, three of them children.
The body of the F4 pilot, whose name was not revealed, was found in the fighter plane crashed a mile away.
The bodies are being taken by helicopter to a temporary morgue on a baseball field in the town of Duarte, file miles away. The crash site is in a barely accessible part of the jagged San Gabriel Mountains about 25 miles northeast of Los Angeles.
The DC9 was 18 minutes out of Los Angeles International Airport at the time of the collision with the F4 which was on a flight from Fallon Navy Air Station in Nevada to its home base at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.
A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration said the DC9 was being tracked on radar by ground air controllers but the F4 did not appear on radar screens.
He said the fighter was using “visual rules,” the “see and be seen” method, which meant it did not have to and had not filed an isntrument flight rules route with air controllers.
It was not unusual for the F4 not to appear on radar screens, he said, because of the variables in picking up an aircraft on radar. THese, he said, are the plane’s motion, altitude, speed, how the radar is adjusted and ground clutter such as mountains.