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.



Missing Names

I noticed several names which are missing. I was stationed with the 1st A.T. Bn Camp Pendelton Ca when this terrible thing happen we were scheduled to go to Nam by way nof ship But several of our guys were pulled out and were being sent by plane It has been so long ago I don't remember all the names but I do remember Pfc Donald Donaldson and several others one who's lasaat name was Garcia. I have always thiught that if they had needed a few more men I would more than likely have been on that plane as my last name is Garrett ( right after Garcia) I

Anthony Nelson

My name is Ann Nelson. I lost my brother Anthony. Nelson on that plane crash I was only 9 but remember the hurt and pain. I was wondering if anyone. On that hill that day found. letters or anything pertaining to my brother. Thank-you so much for going up on that hill. Sincerely Ann Nelson

F4 crash

I also was a witness to the crash. I was 15 years old and at the beach at Newport Beach, CA.. People around me starting screaming and pointing to the south. I looked up and saw an F4 phamtom jet fully engulfed in flames and desperately trying to reach the ocean so the crew could safely eject. They had just taken off from El Toro Marine Corp Base. Both the pilot and his radar intercept officer had tremendous courage and stayed with the plane so it wouldn't crash into a populated area. I watched the plane go from horizontal flight into a nose dive directly into the ocean trailing flames for hundreds of feet. I was several miles away and saw a huge plume of water erupt from the ocean and the boom of the crash arrived several seconds later. Tens of thousands of people saw the crash and there was film of it on television later that same night. Our local paper later listed the names of the crew and I belive that one of them was from Montana. I have been haunted by this event for over 45 years and have also tried to find information on this disaster but can't find anything.

PS I am convinced that the event took place in July 1967 and not 1966.

anthony e nelson

Tony was my brother. I was only 9 but to this day. I remember the day we lost him. I cannot hear the bugles make me cry.If you would like to know more. Please feel free to email me desertgirl92040@yahoo.com. Thank-you l

El Toro Plane Crash 1965

My Fiance (we were engaged to be married) was on that plane, however his name is not on this list. He was stationed in Quantico, VA , and I lived in the small town of Quantico in 1965. I saw in a local newspaper in 1965, his name on a list, however the newspaper was lost. Is there any information you could help me with as to why his name isnt on this list? I would appreciate it so much. Sincerely, Wanda

1965 El Toro Plane Crash

My father, Lance Corp. Alfred Eugene Peterson (mispelled above) was on that plane. He and my mother were only married 19 days and I am the product of their honeymoon. I am currently in contact with the Irvine Ranch Conservancy trying to get some more information on the wreck and trying to find out if there is a memorial for these men. I have also been in contact with other family members and we are sharing information. Please feel free to contact me. I also want to express my deepest gratitude to those men who took on the huge task of bringing the remains back.

My father, Lance Corp.

My father, Lance Corp. Alfred Peterson (mispelled on list) was on that plane. He and my mother were only married 19 days when he was killed. I am the product of their honeymoon so he never knew of me. My mother kept all of the newspaper articles about the crash, but she was on the East Coast. I now live in Southern California and ironically overlook the Santa Ana Mountains everyday! I am thrilled to get more and more information about this great tragedy. My grandmother has petitioned the Military to include the names of these Marines on the Vietnam Wall; as they were serving their country even though they were killed Stateside. One day I am hoping to be able to go up and see where the crashsite was, but am told it is rugged terraine. I still run into people who were here in So. CA in 1965 and they all remember the day of this great tragedy.
Lisa (Peterson) Hollingsworth


I am Tony's sister I was only nine years old when he died. I just remember going to marineland with him and then taking him to his barracks. There is not a day that goes by that I don't think about him. Let me know what info you would like. If I don't know my sister should. My brother john has passed away. Also anything you know I would really enjoy hearing. Thank-you. Ann. Nelson

tony nelson

I am Tony/ Anthony Nelson sister. I have been looking. For anyone that remembered my brother. I wad only nine years old but I remember the day we dropped him at
the base If you have any pictures. Or just memory's of. Of things he said or did I would appreciate. I am now 55 and there is not a. day that goes by that I do not think about him sincerely ann

f4 emerald bat crash 7/7/1967

I was there, 10 years old at the time. There is an LA Times archival article about the crash you can research. I remember the aircraft passing above the beach at an altitude of about 400 feet, entirely in flames, and with no power. It crashed about 1 mile offshore. The pilot and radar intercept officer stayed aboard to guide the aircraft away from the crowded beaches and downtown area. Their names were not mentioned pending notifcation of NOK. I wish I knew who they were.