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




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.




L/CPL THURMOND W. CHAMPION and PCF JOHN CUNNINGHAM had lost our travel orders so we were sent back to Pendleton that day and did not make that fatal flight.By losing our travel orders this made two seats available on that plane.Two men on leave from their base in Hawaii occupied those two seats on that day. Less than one hour after we had headed back to Pendleton that plane crashed into the mountain killing everyone on board. A few days later John and I were separated never to see each other again. SSGT THURMOND W. CHAMPION 2109556 UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS


MYSELF AND ANOTHER MARINE WAS TO BOARD THAT FLIGHT IN 1965, PLEASE CONTACT ME AT 901-737-3528 OR 731-413-1919 MY EMAIL IS thurmondchampion@gmail.com


I am one of the men that was suppose to board that flight in 1965,if anyone is interested in my story please feel free to contact me by email thurmondchampion@gmail.com OR contact me at this number 901-737-3528
you can visit my profile on facebook and also google pus, I am only interested in telling my story and hearing others.Thank you

ElToro (SWTU)

When were you assigned to SWTU. I was there 61-63.

My husband's father, Robert

My husband's father, Robert Shannon also died in that crash. We have been trying to get their names on the wall as well, but we have not had any success. Have you??? I would be interested to know, and perhaps if we followed up to your grandmothers attempts it could help. Thank you for the post!
Barb SHannon

El Toro Plane Crash 1965

A few years ago my father told me this story that he was supposed to be on a flight out of El Toro to Vietnam, however for what ever reason, he missed the flight. He said he got up the next morning turned the TV on and saw the news. Yesterday I just did a search to find more out about it. Glad that he missed the flight but very strange. Thoughts to all who were lost.

My dad was supposed to be on

My dad was supposed to be on this flight but missed it.

I didn't see Cpl Jimmie E.

I didn't see Cpl Jimmie E. Brown he was supposed to of been on this flight?

June 25, 1965 Plane Crash

To add to what Mr. Girod has written: I was a civilian in June of 1965 who worked for a company in Culver City, CA who supplied many of the military caskets and wooden shipping boxes to several of the funeral homes who were involved. I was a truck driver at the time and made many deliveries of the caskets and shipping boxes to the funeral homes in Orange County.

I can testify to Mr. Girod's remarks that the Marines were handled with the utmost respect as they were placed in the caskets. I remember seeing the full dress blue uniform, hat and white gloves folded impeccably and laid above the white casket liner which concealed the remains of a Marine Lance Corporal who's name I sadly cannot remember. It was a tragic and solemn experience for all who were involved in any way.

At the time of the crash, my draft status was 1A. In July I received my official draft notice and was sent to Ft. Polk, LA in early August for Army basic training. In March of 1966 I left for Vietnam, returning to the U.S. in May of 1967. In all of the years since, I have not forgotten (nor will ever forget) that terrible crash and loss of those Marines and Airmen who never made it to Vietnam, but in my mind are forever linked to the war and were casualties none the less. My heart still goes out to all of the families and others who were involved.

R. Slemp - Reardan, WA

Laguna marine plane crash July 8th, 1967

I thought it was all a dream what I remember seeing from my house in Laguna that day until I found and article on the Internet from the Spokan Daily Chronicle dated July. 8,1967. Your account was like mine that you could tell the pilot gave his life to not crash into town.....read the article it will bring chills