Around 9 am on Monday, September 25th of 1978, a Pacific Southwest Airlines jet crashed into a small, private Cessna 172 light aircraft over San Diego, California. The accident cost 153 people their lives. The wreckage of the Boeing 727-214 commercial airliner and the Cessna fell into a heavily populated San Diego neighborhood, causing extensive property damage.
At 8:34 am, Pacific Southwest Airlines flight 182 had departed Los Angeles for San Diego. The crew was soon alerted by the controller about a small Cessna 172 Skyhawk in the area.
Inside the Cessna were the pilot, Martin Kazy, and his student, David Lee Boswell. They were practicing instrument landing system approaches at San Diego's Lindbergh Field airport. After a couple of successful tries, Boswell flew the plane toward Montgomery Field airport, northeast of San Diego. Although air traffic controllers at Lindbergh had warned the pilots in the Cessna to stay beneath 3,500 feet when going northeast, the Cessna did not comply, and changed course without telling the controllers. They were navigating the plane under visual flight rules, which did not require filing a flight plan. Still, the Cessna was in communication with the San Diego air traffic control tower.
The pilots of flight 182 were able to see the Cessna, but then lost sight of it, and neglected to inform air traffic control that they had lost sight of the smaller aircraft. The Cessna may have been hard to spot, because it was below the 727, possibly blending in with houses across the landscape. Unluckily, the houses below and the fuselage of the Cessna were a similar yellow color.
Meanwhile, at air traffic control, warning lights were flashing, but so many times the warning had been a false alarm. So air traffic control ignored the alert system. The Boeing got permission to land, and descended toward the top of the Cessna, obviously not seeing it there. About nineteen seconds later, the two planes collided at an altitude of 2,600 feet, and rained fireballs down on San Diego's North Park neighborhood, at the intersection of Dwight and Nile. Residents reported hearing the twisted noise of metal crunching metal, followed by a fire in the sky, which caused them to look upward. One woman reported watching oranges and apples bake on the trees.
Two photographers who were attending an event got photos and footage of the post-crash descent, and pictures of the wreckage after the planes hit the ground. Their coverage of this event in the San Diego Evening Tribune won a Pulitzer prize.
All 137 passengers and seven crew members on the Boeing 727 plane were killed, as well as the two Cessna pilots, along with seven people on the ground, including two children. Twenty-two homes were destroyed.
After the crash, air traffic control rules were tightened, with the intention of better separating aircrafts operating near large airports.
It was Pacific Southwest's first accident that involved fatalities, and probably the deadliest aircraft disaster in the history of California. At the time, it was the deadliest airplane crash in aviation history.