Thursday, January 22, 2009

Helicopter Tragedies

In 1968 alone, the Disneyland/LAX helicopter service suffered two of the worst civilian chopper crashes in U.S. history. In May, a helicopter carrying 23 people lucky enough to leave the park alive disintegrated in mid-air and crashed near Paramount. There were no survivors. Less than three months later, a Disneyland-bound chopper crashed on a Compton playground, killing all 21 would-be "guests" and crew on board.The type of helicopter involved in both crashes was the Sikorsky S-61, operated by Los Angeles Airways, which had regular passenger service between Los Angeles International Airport and the Disneyland/Anaheim heliport.

The first crash occurred on May 22, 1968, when N303Y was en route from Disneyland to LAX. At about 550 PM, Flight 841 was flying at about 2,000 feet near Paramount when a distress message was received from the helicopter "L.A., we're crashing, help us!" All 20 passengers and the crew of 3 were killed. It was later determined that a mechanical failure in the main rotor hub allowed extreme lead-lag excursions of the rotor blades, one of which became detached from the swashplate and struck the helicopter's fuselage as it was descending through about 600 feet. This caused the other four rotor blades to go out of control, and in short order all five blades broke and the rear fuselage and tail rotor pylon separated from the aircraft.

The second crash, on August 14, 1968, involved N300Y, operating as Flight 417 from LAX to Anaheim. This time, the helicopter was flying at about 1,500 feet around 1035 AM when one of the main rotor head spindles failed and the attached rotor blade separated completely. The resulting imbalance sent the helicopter out of control and it crashed in Leuders Park, killing all 18 passengers and 3 crew. The spindle failure was caused by metal fatigue.

Newspaper photo of the helicopter crash


Newspaper photos detailing the gruesome details


Newspaper Article - Article from May, 1968


Article from August, 1968


Arriving Helicopter - Landing at the Disneyland Hotel Heliport


Loading Passengers - The Helicopter terminal at the Disneyland Hotel station


In Flight - The Heliport accross the street from the Disneyland Hotel


Helicopter Taking Off - The fence for the driving range can be seen in the background


LAA Airways Overhead - Leaving the Heliport at the Disneyland Hotel

14 comments:

walterworld said...

Did they discontinue the copter service immediately after the second crash or did it continue on for awhile longer?

What a tragic way to begin (or end) your day at Disneyland!

Magical Hotel said...

Yes, I believe they did discontinue service very shortly after the accidents.

sgtdisney said...

Hi, new poster to the blog had to say I loved your book and share your love for The (original) Disneyland Hotel. Went there in the 60s as a very young boy and through the 70s and early 80s as well, always staying a DLH. My dad was an airline pilot, so we got to fly a lot. I flew on those helicopters a few times in the 60s. I was really young, but I do remember them. We lived (still do) in the Chicago area, and would fly into LAX and my Dad would get us on the helicopter service to Disneyland. We'd spend the whole trip at Disneyland and the Disneyland Hotel or rent a car for a day and do a day trip. I do have to say that even as a small kid, the helicopters were fascinating, but they scared me. I remember them as being loud and bumpy flights, and to a little kid, they seemed so much lower to the ground. It was sad to hear about the crashes then and seeing the picture of the helicopter on your site here brings back memories of those vacations.

Kathy Rae said...

My younger brothers Dennis Neal Callopy and David Francis Callopy along with my Aunt Gladys Elizabeth Pierce were killed on that Aug 14, 1968 flight. If the company had discontinued service after the first crash 21 people including my aunt and brothers would still be alive. Also the maintenance was not being kept up . That particular helicopte had been flagged to not use and someone saw fit to remove the notice. This is a tragedy that did not have to happen and my family grieves everyday because of it.

Magical Hotel said...

My heart goes out to you on the losss of the members of your family. I can remove this posting if you like and did not intend to open any wounds.

Blue said...

I was 12 yrs. old playing with friends when we saw the helicopter going down. We ran all the way to Leuders Park (I played on a football team @ the park called the Compton Comets) I cannot forget the sights and smells of that day. I also remember how everyone was saying that the pilot was a hero. He just missed a trailer park (that is still there) and hit an open area in the park. The crash site left a scare in the grass. Every time we would practice I would look @ that scare in the grass and wonder what that pilot was thinking and did he know that he saved a lot of lives because he cared about the people on the ground and took the extra effort.Even as he faced death!

Blue said...

I was 12 yrs. old playing with friends when we saw the helicopter going down. We ran all the way to Leuders Park (I played on a football team @ the park called the Compton Comets) I cannot forget the sights and smells of that day. I also remember how everyone was saying that the pilot was a hero. He just missed a trailer park (that is still there) and hit an open area in the park. The crash site left a scare in the grass. Every time we would practice I would look @ that scare in the grass and wonder what that pilot was thinking and did he know that he saved a lot of lives because he cared about the people on the ground and took the extra effort.Even as he faced death!

James said...

IT ALWAYS TAKES MANY DEATHS TO TURN THINGS AROUND IN THE AIRCRAFT INDUSTRY - JUST LOOK AT ALL THE TRADIGYS WITH BOING...

HeidiAZ said...

I think it's part of history to include this story in your blog. I am so sorry, Kathy Rae, for your tragic loss. I am horrified they kept flying after the first accident partly because I rode a helicopter to Disneyland in early June of 1968. I was seven riding with my mom, sister, and babysitter. It was very rattly and I was glad when it was over. I heard about the second crash a few months after we got home, but I never knew of the first one until now. It gives me the chills, but I really appreciate you gathering the information here.

Unknown said...

God bless them all.

Mike Arrigo said...

My dad flew on those Sikorsky S-61Ls from Anahiem and Newport Beach to LAX. I remember he felt lucky not to be aboard on those crashes and stopped flying. The photo of the aircraft in this blog is of one of the two that crashed. As a child I was fascinated by the helicopters, which would depart sometimes in the evening and fly over our house. I shined my flashlight to the heavens one night and it appeared that the crew shined a light on their Sikorsky in my direction. I'll never know for sure, I was 9 years old when those crashes happened. I'll never gorget how those machines looked, and it took me back to the 1960s, haunting to see the blog and newspaper photos. The official NTSB report on the first crash in May 1968 can be found at this link http://libraryonline.erau.edu/online-full-text/ntsb/aircraft-accident-reports/AAR70-01.pdf

Sad, an infant was aboard one of the flights as well as the family members noted by respondents to this blog.

seasidedobiemom said...

I lived in the trailer park across the street from Lueders Park and witnessed the copter coming down in August 1968. I had just turned fourteen, and my dog and I were home alone. My neighbor attempted to rescue the pilot, but said his brain was sitting in his lap. The smell was horrible and permeated the area for a long time. Although the families who lost loved ones had their lives changed forever, so did I. Whenever I hear the sound of low flying aircraft overhead, I'm sure they're going to crash. I've also had many versions of the same dream...always seeing a plane/copter falling out of the sky. Very sad day...47 years ago and it still haunts me.

John Everidge said...

I moved with my family to Anaheim in 1969 we lived not a mile north of the Heliport. I used to watch the helicopters go over our house on approach to the heliport. Literally making the house shake. It was awesome.

Ace Hall said...

I, too, witnessed the crash. I have "eidetic memory." Essentially, I remember EVERYTHING I have seen, heard, etc. With age this ability is starting to fade, however, memories from my youth are as clear as if I was watching a movie. I was a six-year-old boy at the time, and we lived just a short way from Lueders Park near the corner of Rosecrans and Rose. As it was during the summer holiday, and school had not yet started, both my sister and I were at home. On that beautiful morning, I was in our front yard riding my bicycle. The helicopter passed close by, and being a young boy, it was incredible to me to witness such an exciting thing as a huge helicopter flying almost directly overhead. I watched the helicopter as it passed by until, suddenly, I saw something fly off of it! It looked to me as if something had flown off of the back of the helicopter, but I wasn't sure. I watched the helicopter start to turn in place, when what I could clearly see was the rear of the helicopter seemed to bend sideways and then fly off of the stricken helicopter. By now out of control, the helicopter started to rotate even faster, and then it dropped behind a nearby tree line. A moment later, I saw a huge explosion. I dropped my bike and ran inside to tell my mom. She looked and saw the sky filled with smoke, then grabbed my sister, locked the door, and walked us toward the disaster. Before we arrived, as she knew it was a helicopter crash from my description, she made my sister and me stand back, but where she could see us, and she walked forward toward the crash. When she came back she was horrified by what she had seen. Also, this was the first time that I heard someone else call the pilot a hero. Other people who were much closer to the crash, were talking when my mom arrived, and they were all saying that they could see the falling helicopter somehow being steered toward the park! On one side of the park were multi-story houses and the trailer park across the street. The pilot managed to avoid both of these heavily populated areas in favor of the park, instead. He was indeed a hero. After we walked back home, none of us said a word for the rest of the day until my dad came home from work and we watched a news special on the crash. Obviously, it left indelible memories in my mind to this day. As a young boy, it was the most unlikely and horrifying thing I had ever seen, and even to this day nothing has equalled it for impact or for loss of life that I personally witnessed. My heart goes out to the people who were on the helicopter, and to any of their surviving relatives. I can honestly say that if I had known what was happening, I probably would not have watched, but I was too young at the time to think about that. As it was, I had nightmares of that crashing helicopter for a LONG time after that incident. I find it amazing that other witnesses found this same site and posted the same memory, along with the comment about the heroism of the pilot. The only nice thing about that information is that it reinforces for me the fact that the pilot WAS a hero, which, since it was such a long time ago, I wasn't sure was just a hopeful memory that I had conjured up by myself to find any sort of comfort in the situation. I am happy to know that other people who saw the crash were able to verify the pilot's heroism. Even facing death he did a most amazing thing, steering the helicopter to the only clear area for MILES. Thank God there are people as skilled and heroic as that pilot during times of incredible stress. It is essentially a miracle that no one on the ground was killed, considering that the park was heavily used, and that it was a summer holiday morning, not to mention all of the housing that was around the park. Sad to say, when I close my eyes even to this day, I can still see the helicopter, doing exactly what it did on that sad day, in my mind. It is a terrible reminder of that beautiful summer's day in 1968 in Compton, California.