El Toro Marine Air Station, CA Air Disaster Kills 84, June 1965

JET CRASHES NEAR EL TORO.

84 DIE IN CALIFORNIA'S WORST AIR DISASTER.

PLANE FAILS TO MAKE LEFT TURN.

Marines Believed Bound for Viet Nam.

El Toro Marine Air Station, Calif. (UPI) -- A mililtary jet transport, unaccountably failing to make a scheduled left turn, plunged into a fog-shrouded mountain and exploded after takeoff early Friday, killing all 84 men aboard -- including 72 Marines believed bound for Viet Nam.
There were no survivors in one of the worst military air disasters in peacetime history. It also was California's worst air disaster.
The C135 air transport, military conuterpart of the commercial Boeing 707 jetliner, smashed into a mountain 4 1/2 miles directly north of the end of the runway from which it took off moments before.
Turn Scheduled.
But Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) inspector ELMER PARKS said the flight plan called for the Air Force jet to have made a left turn two miles after liftoff.
In aq news conference late Friday, PARKS would not disclose whether the tape recording of the final conversation between tower and pilot indicated why the airman did not make the specified turn.
The pilot, Capt. WILLIAM F. CORDELL, JR., was a veteran of 3,000 hours flying time.
PARKS also declined comment on whether any sabotage was suspected. He said an investigation would be completed within 10 days.
"There was no indication the pilot didn't know the flight pattern," PARKS said.
Below Normal Altitude.
Under normal conditions the aircraft would have been at an altitude of 4,000-4,500 feet about 4 1/2 miles from takeoff.
A Marine officer, declining to be identified, said if the plane "lacked power, and went into its bank it might have wiped out a part of Orange," a suburban community near El Toro. He speculated the pilot might have tried to avoid such a disaster by keeping the plane on a straight course.
Orange County Coroner DR. RAYMOND BRANDT said all 84 bodies have been recovered. Ten had been positively identified by late afternoon.
The powerful jet "completely broke up: when it hit the mountain at the 1,500-foot level, about 75 feet below the summit.
The largest single piece of wreckage was the flattened out cockpit area, about 10 feet in diameter. The pilot's body lay inside.
Loma Peak Turned Into Nightmare.
El Toro Marine Base -- The sun heated fog clung to the human and airplane debris littering the mountain top.
Boots, some of them with feet, were scattered about.
Papers, technical manuals, some with singed edges, personal letters, cards, and official envelopes containing travel orders lay in disorder in the mesquite that covered the top of Loma Peak except where it had been burned by the explosion of 8,000 gallons of plane fuel.
Scattered pieces of uniforms tallied with the report that 72 of the 84 victims were U. S. Marines en route to Okinawa, staging point for South Viet Nam. The other 12 were the Air Force plane crew.
The first man at the scene, Sgt. BILL HASTINGS of the Marine Air Rescue Squadron from El Toro, said his first reaction was to radio for salvage crews to clean up the wreckage.
"I just felt that no one could have survived this one ... it was just that bad ... When I walked up from where the chopper landed me, and into that scene I felt as though someone had kicked me in the stomach ..."
Shortly before noon Gen. HOWELL M. ESTES, commanding general of the Military Air Transport Service (MATS) at Scott Field, Ill., arrived by jet. When he stepped from the T-39 sabreliner, he was wiping his tear-stained eyes. He looked hard hit.
"Those guys were the greatest," he said, "I'm just sick." He was visibly shaken when he returned from the crash scene.
In the bustling flight operations office at the Marine air field at El Toro, a girl, obviously not more than 20, appeared distraught.
A sergeant was talking to her. She looked down most of the time, but glanced up to say, "But they haven't notified me ....."
The sergeant looked away.
She asked, "What should I do?" She appeared ready to faint.
The sergeant called another Marine, "Get the chaplain."
The girl stared dazedly at the sergeant, "I love him and now, I know he's ... d .... gone. What'll I do? ... Yes, I know he was on the plane because he left late last night, and he was in the Third Marine Division ..."
The sergeant took her into the secluded recess of the weather station. As she went with him she nervously twisted the new rings on the third finger of her left hand.

Continued

Comments

June 25, 1965, El Toro Plane Crash

My father, Sgt. Jim Swink, died on that plane. I was just 7 years old. Just 3 years ago, my mother, now in her 70's, one of my sisters & my daughter traveled to California and went to the site of the crash for closure and to honor my father with a small ceremony. It took over a year to arrange. It is considered a microsite by the government. Not just anyone is allowed up there. We left his dog tags and some momentos. We walked around the area and listened to our guide tell us of the crash; the history of the area. It is quiet and serene, All around are small pieces of the plane still pushed up by gophers, the guide told us, from under the ground. They are left there in a special spot. This was a very special trip for my family.

My son honored his Grandfather by joining the Marines and has served proudly these last ten years. Civilians do not fully understand the brotherhood of soldiers and the depth of what it means. I want to sincerely thank the Marines who went to the crash site that fateful day and retrieved the remains off their fallen soldiers including my father with dignity, respect and honor. It was not an easy task, I am sure, and the memory will forever be with you. My heart swells with pride and tears come easily even today. Thank you for your service that day and the days after. I am sure my father in Heaven salutes you.

Debbie Swink, Registered Nurse, Decatur, Illinois

June 25, 1965, El Toro Plane Crash

My father, Sgt. Jim Swink, died on that plane. I was just 7 years old. Just 3 years ago, my mother, now in her 70's, one of my sisters & my daughter traveled to California and went to the site of the crash for closure and to honor my father with a small ceremony. It took over a year to arrange. It is considered a microsite by the government. Not just anyone is allowed up there. We left his dog tags and some momentos. We walked around the area and listened to our guide tell us of the crash; the history of the area. It is quiet and serene, All around are small pieces of the plane still pushed up by gophers, the guide told us, from under the ground. They are left there in a special spot. This was a very special trip for my family.

My son honored his Grandfather by joining the Marines and has served proudly these last ten years. Civilians do not fully understand the brotherhood of soldiers and the depth of what it means. I want to sincerely thank the Marines who went to the crash site that fateful day and retrieved the remains off their fallen soldiers including my father with dignity, respect and honor. It was not an easy task, I am sure, and the memory will forever be with you. My heart swells with pride and tears come easily even today. Thank you for your service that day and the days after. I am sure my father in Heaven salutes you.

Debbie Swink, Registered Nurse, Decatur, Illinois

El Toro 6/25/1965...

My brother was on this flight that crashed in El Toro California
.
My brother, L. CPL Victor M. Girodengo was 28 years old.

I was 12 but "our world" was never the same. Did you happen to know my brother? He was a baseball player and played in the Pro league baseball in Mexico.

Thank you,

Marcella G. Miller

El Toro Air crash

My friend, Brian Martin, died in this crash. After all these years, it was still hard to read this account of the accident. I believe that all of these brave service memebers should have their names on the Vietnam War Memorial Wall.

Why aren't their names on the Memorial?

My name is Patrick Padilla. My uncle, Lance Cpl. ENRIQUE D. (DAN) PADILLA was killed in the El Toro disaster. I was just two months old at the time. My mother often told us a story of our "uncle Danny", while on leave prior to the crash. He visited us just prior to his deployment to Vietnam. She never forgot how strong and handsome he looked in his Marine uniform. He held me up and said "you'll be big when I come home." It's such a shame he and all those men died so young. God bless those men and their families.

I visited “The Moving Wall” Vietnam Memorial recently. I looked for my uncle’s name on the wall and checked their directory, but he is not listed. I then wrote the Vietnam Memorial caretaker to inquire why the men who died in the 1965 plane crash are not listed on the Vietnam Memorial. Here's the reply I received:

Patrick,
When the Wall was built, the Dept of Defense came up with guidelines on which names were eligible to be placed on the Wall. One of the main rules was that an individual had to have lost their life within the theater of operations or as a result of wounds suffered while in country. Since the crash that took your uncle's life and the others aboard that plane occurred in California, their names were not eligible to be placed on the Wall. I regret having to be the one to tell you this.
In peace and patriotism,
John Devitt
Founder, The Moving Wall

I'm sorry to hear your

I'm sorry to hear your father died in the plane crash. I visited “The Moving Wall” yesterday in Rio Rancho, NM. My uncle, Lance Cpl. ENRIQUE D. (DAN) PADILLA was also killed in the crash. I was just two months old at the time.

I looked for my uncle’s name on The Moving Wall, but it was not there.

I would like to see the names of the 72 marines who were bound for Vietnam listed on the Memorial.

Please contact me if you have any news regarding your grandmother's petition.

Sincerely,

Patrick Padilla

Cpl. MICHAEL J. MANDO, JR.

Cpl. MICHAEL J. MANDO, JR. was my grandfather and on that flight. My grandmother was pregnant with my mom who was born 3 months after this incident. My grandmother to this day still has a picture of her and my grandfather in his uniform on her nightstand. She tells me all the time that I am a mirror image of my grandfather. I was born on June 25th, 1981 and currently live 15 minutes away from the old El Toro base now known as "The Great Park". I get the chills every single time I step foot onto that base! My heart goes out to the family and friends of all those that were lost that day.

Cpl. MICHAEL J. MANDO, JR.

Cpl. MICHAEL J. MANDO, JR. is my grandfather and was on that flight. My grandmother still has a picture of her and my grandfather on her nightstand. She was pregnant with my mom who was born 3 months after this event. Fate it seems, caused me to be born June 25th in 1981 and am honored to have this day as my birthday. I live 15 minutes away from El Toro which is now the "Great Park" and it still gives me chills when I visit there.

I was there on the beach

I was there on the beach with my mother and brother. I was 10 at the time and saw the scene exactly as you described.

June 1965

I was working S&C Files, Station Hq El Toro, June 1965. Had only been on the job for 3 months. They brought their personal effects to my office. Their watches had all stopped at the same time. That job should have been one of the best in the MC, only myself and a WM Officer in the office. The enormity of the disaster on that day still remains with me.
Sgt Thomas W. Olson 2015041