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

11 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.