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.



My father Richard L. Hoffman

My father Richard L. Hoffman was supposed to be on that flight but got bumped off. I am not sure if he was L/Cpl or a Pfc at the time. I remeber him telling me about the crash and how he was suppose to be on that flight.

Robert lisicki of Alexandria

Robert lisicki of Alexandria Virginia was also on this flight. He is my brother in law thanks Jamie lisicki


I was in separation barracks getting ready to be discharged after four years in the Corps. All of us in the barracks were used to clean up what was left of the personnel and plane. I had never seen anything like this and never have since. I still remember that day after 46 years I will never forget. I always wondered about each person whether they would have made it back from Viet Nam if the accident hadn't happened, their families, wives, parents, children, siblings, so sad. May you all rest in peace. I cared about you and still do.

Cpl. David Lown

My husband Lance/Cpl

My husband Lance/Cpl Theodore E Stark, of Lewisville, Ky. was also on the plane. We had only be married for 19 months and living in Jacksonville, Fl.
Thank you Stu for all the information about the crash. Thank you to all the men who helped get our love ones back to their families. Thank you again Stu
and to all the others who added comments. The comments are very helpful for us to understand what happened.

Thank you all

Elaine L Stark, Orlando, Fl
U S Navy 1962-1969

Memorial on Loma Ridge

I have been on the top of Loma Ridge many times in the past five years, and have thought many times of the young men who died there the early morning of June 25, 1965. Stu Beitler should be highly commended for putting this information on the internet, and the personal comments that have resulted.
The top of Loma Ridge is now the Emergency Operations Center for the County of Orange, and would be a perfect place for a Memorial for the victims of this crash. I have been told that Project Remembrance had planned to put a Memorial stone at the crash site, but could not find any information related to that on their web site. Maybe, Stu could coordinate an effort to have this done.
As I have mentioned, I have been on the top of Loma Ridge many times and it is a very quiet and relaxing place. On clear days you can look out to the south and see El Toro Air Base, which is now closed. Several times I have watched a lone hawk soar around the top of the hill and thought maybe he/she is the guardian of this very hallowed ground. God Bless them all and the Families & Friends they left behind.

Friend on the Fatel Flight

I do Not know your name but I wanted to share with you, the pain and heart break over the lost of Fellow Marines. I was stationed on Camp Pendleton with this group of Marines & only by fate I was not chosen to be on that flight. Several Marines were selected out of various groups and slated to head to Vietnam on an Advance party I knew a Anthony (Tony) Nelson and to this day almost 46 years later I still remember that morning & getting the news. I did head towards Vietnam in August of 1965.
Feel free to contact me if you want.

Ernest "Ernie" Brindley
USMC 1962-1966
Columbia City,In. 46725

Fellow Marine

I knew several of the men on this ill fated flight. But the main one I would like to know more about is Anthony (Tony) Nelson. I sat with him and talked with him the night before he left in our barracks in Camp Pendleton. I beleive his brother was from Wlimington,Calif. Anyone that has any information on his family I would like to have.

Thank You Ernest Brindley USMC 1962-1966


Corrected as per your request ...
Thank you for the notification
Stu Beitler

El Toro Crash June 1965

NAME SPELLING CORRECTION..........I should have done this a long time ago!.

Lance Cpl, JOHN G BRUSSO, Ontario NY.....Not BRUSSE.......................

El Toro Crash/Dealth of all

I recently read your post dated October 19, 2009......... regarding the El Toro Crash. As I sit at this keyboard today, I just want to say "Thank you". My boyfriend was one of those Marines on the plane that day. His dealth changed my entire life... and several others in my family. Although they spelled his name wrong, I want you to know that John G Brusso, USMC from Ontario NY was a great person. From the time he was a child, he always wanted to be a Marine and was very proud of what he had accomplished. I am glad that such care was taken to remove the remains yet, sorry that such memories have been left with you. I too am in my 60's and care for my 88 year old Mom. I have recently been searching, without luck, to see if those who died that day were ever memorialized anyplace. So far I have not found any mention of them. This is one of MY last things on my "TO DO" list. It actually has been too painful before now, and still is. I do understand your pain, there are just some things in life that stay with us forever. The month after the plane crash, instead of a women's college in Boston, I was at Great Lakes, headed for Corps School..........Please know that what you did to help after the crash was the most that anyone could do. Maybe now it is time to accept that sometimes we just never find out all the reasons about how or why things happen the way they do. I am sure, because I was not there, telling you to put this behind you would be offensive. I will instead say to you that I know that Jack has been at peace and maybe it is our turn.........................Bless you,
J White, Asheville NC
Life member DAV, VVA, American Legion, USN