Costa Mesa Aviation Accidents

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By Dave Gardner, Society President

On June 5, 1935, a Stinson SM-6000 Trimotor made an unscheduled landing at the Joe Volck residence on the northeast corner of West Bay St. and Harbor Blvd. There were no serious injuries.

In about 1943, a single seater military fighter plane crashed into a vacant lot at the intersection of Broadway and Fullerton, killing the pilot. After the remains of the wreckage had been taken away, I was walking around the crash site and I found a part of the pilot’s glove. I took it home and after a couple of weeks, I started having nightmares, so I threw the glove away.

In 1943, I was in the playground at the Main School at Newport Blvd. and 19th St. at about 2:00 in the afternoon. When I looked up to the sky toward the west side of town, I noticed an AP-38 airplane with smoke coming out, going into a power dive. Then I saw a parachute opening. After school, I hopped on my bike and went to see what happened. The plane crashed on this side of the river at Victoria St. It had landed in a flock of sheep. Not a pretty sight. The pilot lived.

In the earlier days of Costa Mesa there was an airport at the corner of Placentia and 19th St. The airport faced toward Huntington Beach. In 1948 a small plane crashed. At that time, I was driving the local ambulance and took the crash victim to the hospital. Luckily the man was not seriously injured.

On a Saturday, in about 1963, two men were in a small plane that had engine trouble and tried to land next to Kaiser Middle School on Santa Ana Ave. The pilot’s name was John Shipley, a good friend of mine. The plane hit a metal fence post, killing John. The passenger walked away unharmed.

Another situation occurred, I believe in 1954, at 5:25am. A plane crashed at 2320 Elden Ave. We didn’t normally hear airplanes at night. However, I heard, along with the towns people, a loud noise of an airplane flying, then silence. A person knew that the plane had probably crashed. The volunteer fire departments siren went off. Two of our fire trucks went to the scene. I got out of bed feeling that either the ambulance service or mortuary would call me as I worked for them. I heard nothing, went back to bed, and then the phone rang. It was the mortuary. At first, they thought there were two people in the plane. But, there were three. I went to the mortuary and had to get their other hearse. A side note to the story – Jim Musick, who was the Orange County Sheriff, was supposed to be on the plane but at the last minute decided not to go.

The College Park neighborhood of Costa Mesa was witness to a plane crash on Memorial Day, May 26, 1975. Due to overcast weather, a private plane piloted by Edward Ketchum of Phoenix, Arizona made an instrument departure from Orange County Airport and was heading north. Neighbors said the plane appeared through the cloud layer and descended rapidly, hitting the home of Norman Harlin killing the pilot and sending debris over a wide area along Fordham Drive. Harlin, of 360 Villanova Road, was watering his front yard when the plane hit, sending him to the hospital with burns and cuts. Neighbors recount that the home of a nearby resident, Costa Mesa Police Lieutenant Ed Glasgow, became a command post for the accident. Several witnesses speculated the pilot may have been experiencing vertigo as the plane was coming in upside down.

On the evening of March 10, 1987, a Newport Beach police helicopter was in pursuit of a speeding car in the Newport/Irvine area. The officers asked for help from the Costa Mesa Police Department. The Costa Mesa police helicopter was named Eagle II. It appears that the Costa Mesa police helicopter came up under the Newport Beach helicopter causing a crash. There were two Costa Mesa police officers, plus a civilian passenger killed. The Newport Beach helicopter landed safely. The civilian they were chasing hit another car causing the person in the other car to lose his foot. This latter gentleman was a personal friend of mine. There is a park at the corner of Victoria and Maple called the Dave Ketchum–Mike Libolt Park in honor of the two police officers killed.

I would like to end this article on a happy note. In January of this year, a small plane landed on the 55 Freeway near Del Mar Ave. and the pilot walked away unscathed.