Compton, CA Helicopter Enroute to Disneyland Crashes, Aug 1968

Copter for Disneyland Cracks Up, Killing 21

Compton, Calif. (AP)-A helicopter carrying youngsters and adults to a day of fun at Disneyland broke apart and plunged in pieces into a playground Wednesday, killing all 21 aboard. The dead included the grandson of the airline’s president.

It was the second crash of a Los Angeles Airways copter carrying Disneyland visitors in three months. Twenty-three died in may at nearby Paramount, the worst commercial helicopter disaster in the United States.

The company suspended all flights after Wednesday’s crash.

Among the dead was Christopher Belinn, 14, grandson of Clarence Belinn, president of the helicopter shuttle service.

Mrs. Reid Wasson, an aunt, said Christopher had been visiting his grandparents in North Hollywood and was returning home. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Belinn of Santa Anna, which is near Disneyland.

The twin-turbine copter was the same type as the one which crashed May 22 on a flight to Los Angeles from Disneyland.

Twenty-one bodies were pulled from the charred and crumpled wreckage by late Wednesday afternoon, Coroner Thomas Noguchi said. Most were found strapped in their seats. The crash site was the only open area within miles. No one on the ground was injured.

The body of the pilot was part way out of the cockpit and his head was resting on the ground, said Don Rosteing, 28, of Lynwood, a mechanic at a nearby transmission shop.

“His hair was on fire,” Rosteing said. “We tried to spray him with the extinguishers, but the flames swept right over him.”

“God bless that man,” said a witness, Jonathan Dollar, 46, about the pilot. “He tried to the very end to keep that copter airborne.”

Dollar watched from his trailer house across the street as the single-rotor Sikorsky S61 plunged from about 50 feet into Leuder’s Park in the suburb of Compton 10 miles south of downtown Los Angeles.

“The fuselage was distorted and it came down slanted to the right,” said Dollar. He ran outside.

“Two small gears and a dime hit me on the chest and fell in front of me. Someone told me ‘I can see a guy in there we can still get.’

“We reached the front and saw the cockpit was torn away and the pilot was trapped partly in the seat by a bar pushed over his midsection.

“I and the other guy tried to pull the bar loose when flames crept up the pilot’s pants leg. The man didn’t change expression. I guess he was already dead.”

Other witnesses used small fire extinguishers on the helicopter, but the fire still raged. Flames streaked along the full length of the fuselage.

“Oh, that one man. It was terrible,” said Linda Stowell, 21, one of the first to arrive, referring to the dead pilot. “I just couldn’t believe it.”

About 30 youngsters were playing in the park when another mechanic at the transmission shop heard three loud pops and looked up to see the helicopter.

“It seemed to hesitate, and its main rotor blade stopped for a second,” said John Sears, 22, of Pico Rivera. “Then it began a slow spin and turned all the way around once clockwise.”

He said he could see the tail section “hanging by some cables or tubes and then it just broke off.”

The fuselage containing the victims narrowly missed a fence around an auto storage lot next to the playground. Bert Koch said the pilot maneuvered to miss his mobile home park nearby.

“I thought sure he was going to hit it and my home,” Koch said, “but he was steering toward the playground, and he hit it dead center.”

The fuselage landed on the grass near the intersection of Rosecrans Avenue and Bullis Road. The tail section fell at Long Beach and Compton Boulevards.
Dallas Morning News, Dallas, TX 15 Aug 1968

The victims of this week’s crash included recently retired San Francisco police captain, his wife, daughter and 8-year-old granddaughter; the 16-year-old grandson of the air line’s president, and three Denver businessmen.

The coroner’s office identified the police captain and his family as John P. Meehan, 65; his wife, Helen, 63; daughter, Patricia, 32 and granddaughter, Anne, 8, all of San Rafael, Calif.

Christopher Belinn, 14, was identified among the dead as the grandson of Clarence Belinn, president of the helicopter line.
Dallas Morning News, Dallas, TX 16 Aug 1968

Helicopter Blade Blamed

Washington (UPI) Government air safety investigators reported Friday a helicopter crash which took 21 lives en route to Disneyland Wednesday was caused by one of the five main rotor blades of the craft breaking off in flight.

Joseph J. O’Connell Jr., chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, announced that his agency has recommended an immediate inspection of all helicopters of the type involved in the Compton, Calif., accident. The inspection will involve all Sikorsky Space S1 helicopter spindle units.

O’Connell said the board has found “strong evidence of a metal fatigue type failure of the blade spindle assembly.”

The investigation is continuing, to determine the cause of the fatigue, he reported, and the parts from the chopper have been sent to a metallurgical laboratory for detailed testing.

O’Connell noted that in a similar crash of a Los Angeles Airways helicopter on May 22 there was no evidence of fatigue failure.

“However, the safety board is scrutinizing all the facts thus far developed in both investigations,” he said.

In addition to the fleet inspection, the board made two other recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration: That the FAA adopt a more precise and frequent inspection to prelude future spindle unit failures and that the need be studied for establishing a retirement life for the vital part.

Dallas Morning News, Dallas, TX 17 Aug 1968


Flight 417 Crash Witness

I personally witnessed the crash. I was a six-year-old boy at the time (one month short of seven), and we lived approximately one half mile from Lueders Park near the corner of Rosecrans and Rose at that time. As it was during the summer holiday, and school had not yet started, both my sister and I were at home. On that beautiful morning, I was in our front yard riding my bicycle. The helicopter passed close by, and being a young boy, it was incredible to me to witness such an exciting thing as a huge helicopter flying almost directly overhead. I watched the helicopter as it passed by until, suddenly, I saw something fly off of it! It looked to me at the time as if something had flown off of the back of the helicopter, but I wasn't exactly sure. I was amazed! I watched the helicopter start to turn in place, when what I could clearly see was the rear of the helicopter seemed to bend sideways and then fly off of the stricken helicopter. By now, and completely out of control from my viewpoint, the helicopter started to rotate even faster, and then it started to drop behind a nearby tree line. A moment later, I saw a huge explosion. I dropped my bike and ran inside to tell my mom. She ran outside with me and looked at the sky full of smoke. She immediately grabbed my sister from out of the house, locked the door, and walked us toward the disaster. Before we arrived, and she knew it was a helicopter crash from my description, she made my sister and me stand back aways, but where she could still see us, and she walked forward to see what was happening. When she came back she was horrified by what she had seen. Also, this was the first time that I heard about the pilot being a hero. It seems that other people who were much closer to the crash were talking when my mom arrived, and they were all saying that they could see the helicopter, even though it was almost entirely uncontrollable, be steered toward the center of the park. On either side of the park were multi-story houses and a trailer park. The pilot managed to avoid both of these heavily populated areas in favor of the park, instead. He was a hero. After we walked back home I can't remember any of us saying a word for the rest of the day until my dad came home from work and we watched a news special on the crash. Obviously, it left indelible memories in my mind to this day. As a young boy, it was the most unlikely and horrifying thing I had ever seen, and even to this day nothing has equalled it for impact or for loss of life that I personally witnessed. My heart goes out to the people who were on the helicopter, and to any of their surviving relatives. I can honestly say that if I had known what was happening, I probably would not have watched, but I was too young at the time to think about that. As it was, I had nightmares of that crashing helicopter for months after that incident. The only "good" thing about what happened is the fact that the pilot WAS a hero, which, since it was such a long time ago, I wasn't sure was just a hopeful memory that I had conjured up by myself to find any sort of comfort in the situation. I am happy to know that other people who saw the crash were able to verify the pilot's heroism. Even facing death, he did a most amazing thing, which is the only positive to come out of this tragedy. Thank God there are skilled and heroic people such as that pilot during times of incredible stress. It is essentially a miracle that no one on the ground was killed, too, considering that the park was heavily used, and that it was a summer holiday morning, not to mention all of the housing that was around the park that I previously described. Sad to say, when I close my eyes even to this day, I can still see the helicopter, doing exactly what it did on that sad day, in my mind. It is a terrible reminder of that beautiful summer's day in 1968 in Compton, California.