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.



Mr. Keith, PFC Dan Cook was

Mr. Keith,

PFC Dan Cook was on that mountain with you with little flags, it bothers him often. (He is not much of a computer person and he has asked me to help him. We have been dating now for about a year.) His buddy PFC Joseph Magelliski died on that plane that day. He tells me he was only 3 persons ahead of him in line (and there is a story as to why he was behind him in line in the first place) be boarded and that he got bumped and told that he was to take the USS Mitchell. Part of this situation is that his buddy's girlfriend was pregnant (the buddy knew about the baby) and Dan has some pictures that he would like PFC Magelliski's family to have. Please reply through my personal email and hopefully you and Dan will be able to talk on the phone. He tells me it is not something he would ever tell me about in detail, and a lot of it he doesn't remember, but I'm sure he'd talk to you. We live in Florida now, but his was from Albuquerque, NM at the time.

We hope to hear from you soon...

Name correction

My brother S/Sgt James E Burns was on that plane. One correction you could make is that his wife's name was Linda not Maria..Thank you for the information and I will forever miss him..

jet crash in eltoro calif

I was a pfc at the time was put on this plane, and around lunch time me and two more marines were call up by this black sgt.. do not no his name and told by him that they were exchangeing us with three more marines that we would be flying out the next morning twenty marines going by commercial plane. I remember helping the three marines weigh their bags and putting them on the truck. Then we went to lunch about 4pm that day we told them by and would see them over in Vietnam we got up the next morning find out that the plane crashed in to El toro mountain. I cant remember any of the names but know that one of the guys that was with us had the same last name of one of the marines that got killed, that he had half of his orders and half of the other guys orders. I write this because it has haunted me all these years. I don't remember any names but still can see the sgt. that called my name out and will never forget him. If you know any of the other 19 I would like to know them. Thank you Mikel R Holdren

July 1966 F-4 Phantom crash off coast of Laguna Beach

I don't know if you can help me, but I have been unable to find any info regarding a jet that had just taken off from El Toro marine base in July of 1966, catching fire almost immediately. This jet had two young pilots who seemed to be trying to get over the ocean, then eject, but crashed approximatly 150 yards off the beach at El Morro, killing both. My friend and I (both 13 yrs old at the time) were on rubber surf rafts, just beyond the breakers, this jet was fully engulfed in flames, on full speed, crossing directly over us, crashing what was approximated as being 100 yards from us. We dove into the water and swam as deep as we could as the heat was unbearable and flaming parts of the jet were falling all around us. From the time we saw what we thought was an orange blimp, to the time we realized that it was a "plane" on fire, heading right for us, seemd only a few seconds. The sound was deafening, and the image and heat are something my friend and I will never forget, except the info is nowhere to be found, as if this horrific crash never happened. Do you know anything about this event? Huge ships were anchored close to shore off El Morro (North Laguna Beach) all summer, trying to retrieve the jet and it's crew. The jet was on full force when it entered the ocean and had burried itself deep into the sandy bottom. I thank you for any information you might know, as I have wanted to know more about what caused this, and who these young pilots were.


Thank you all for living and holding your memories. I read the memories you share with a huge lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. These are little samples from a few stories of lives, treasured lives. There are thousands of stories from lives changed or directed by the Vietnam war. It is too bad that we can't share our private memories with other veterans of that time, not just military veterans but veterans of life..

Yes, you have memories. Thank you. I share the reward; I remember.

U S Navy, 1964-1968

June 25, 1965 Plane Crash

I was also on that mountain the day after the crash. I was a Cpl in the Station Operations and Engineering Squadron and due to be discharged on July 1st. My experience at the crash site was different in that our group was assigned to recover smaller human remains and pieces of the aircraft. Not a pleasant task, but the next couple of days I will never forget.

A few of us were assigned to help at local funeral homes. We were asked to place the bodies into caskets and then caskets into wooden boxes in preparation for shipment home. Before closing the boxes we placed an American Flag on each casket. This was a solemn task done with great respect.

Forty five years later I still have vivid memories of my last few days in the Marine Corps.

Jim Girod - Rochester, MN

June 25, 1965

Thank you for getting my brother (Pfc Russell Babcock) home to us. I hope all is well with you and your family. You did a good thing and I am pleased to be able to say Thank you. For all of us. Sincerely Butch

Met this guy too

The guy you speak of is Steve Beduna. He made contact with me through the funeral home that handled my brothers (Pfc Russell Babcock) funeral service. When my friend that owns the funeral home called me and told me this guy was there, I agreed to go meet him. I invited him back to my house to hear his story. At the end of our time together, I came to the conclusion that he was suffering some kind of survivors syndrome, because as he was telling me and my family about that day, he would just break into tears. His research is/was extensive including newspaper articles from around the world regarding the crash. As far as the cover-up he claimed to have been to Boeing, the Pentigon etc asking questions and received answers about the possibility of the tail section of the plane breaking off just after take off. This explains the loss of communication (the antenna is in the tail) and the inability of the plane to climb because the flaps were ineffective. I personally have also done some research and there are a few statements in the accident report that are to say the least shakey. The one glaring issue is the cause was determined to be the fact that "demineralized water" was not available for use in the engines and heavy "regular water" was used causing the plane to be too heavy and when they turned west, they clipped the top of the ridge. My brother inlaw who was a marine aviation mechanic looked at this report and was quite sure that demineralized water was needed in turbo prop planes and he concluded that statement was B.S. because this plane had jet engines. D-water was not a requirement. Isn't it funny that after 45 years exactly today, this still haunts us. I was 9 years old when this happened, and I think we buried my brother sometime around july 4th. It was probably the worse days of my life and I will never forget him or the men he died with. He was so proud to be a Marine. Semper Fi.

Name correction

His name is Robert S. Shedis not Shedla. Son of Bruno and Julie Shedis. Calumet Park. Illinois

Thank you Jim Keith, You

Thank you Jim Keith, You have actually put one small piece of the puzzle in place for me. Of course, I'll never have the answer that I really want-that it never happened. However, I never understood why my love, Tucker R Burt, left on June 26th instead of the 25th. He called me the evening of the 24th to tell me he was flying out the next day. Of course I didn't hear from him on the 25th because he should have been gone. Now I at least understand a little better. There was a delay because of plane problems. Nothing will ever bring him back. At least now I understand that there was a delay. Nothing was ever said about a delay, just that he was on that plane, and that he was gone. I still miss him and think of him often. I'm glad he didn't have to suffer Viet Nam, but I do miss him and love him still. Thank you. My name is irrelivent, I just want to thank you for filling in a space that I've needed filled for a very long time.