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Feb. 8, 1976: Firefighters, using a rotary saw, try to cut their way into cockpit of crashed DC-6 to reach crew.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Boris Yaro / Los Angeles Times

Feb. 8, 1976: Sparks from firefighter's saw ignite gas fumes at crash site of Mercer Enterprises DC-6 in Van Nuys. Ten firefighters were injured.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Boris yaro / Los Angeles Times

Feb. 8, 1976: Firefighters scatter after sparks from a saw ignite gas fumes at site of DC-6 crash in Van Nuys. This photo won first place in spot news from the Press Photographers Assn. of Greater Los Angeles.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Boris Yaro / Los Angeles Times

Feb. 8, 1976: Firefighters scatter after saw ignites gas fumes at crash site of DC-6 in Van Nuys. This photo was used by Associated Press.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Boris Yaro / Los Angeles Times

Feb. 8, 1976: Police and firefighters carry burned firefighter to waiting helicopter after fuel exploded during rescue operations at golf course in Van Nuys. A Mercer Enterprises DC-6 crashed while trying to land at Van Nuys Airport. Parts of this image are blurred by water on lens.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Boris Yaro / Los Angeles Times

Feb. 8, 1976: Injured firefighters after being burned by fire at crash of DC-6 in Van Nuys.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Boris Yaro / Los Angeles Times

Feb. 8, 1976: After fire-retardant foam was used to smother flames, firefighters turn over the DC-6 cockpit in search of bodies.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Rick Meyer / Los Angeles Times

Feb. 8, 1976: Lined-up golf carts at crash scene.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Rick Meyer / Los Angeles Times

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Firefighters engulfed in flames after DC-6 crash

Feb. 8, 1976: Firefighters working to rescue three crew members from a crashed DC-6 cockpit on a golf course near Van Nuys Airport are engulfed in flames.

The Mercer Enterprises DC-6 lost an engine during takeoff from what is now Bob Hope Airport. While trying the reach Van Nuys Airport, the DC-6 was forced to land on a golf course.

Staff writer Jack Jones reported in the Feb. 9, 1976, Los Angeles Times:

A stricken four-engine airliner crash-landed on a municipal golf course in Van Nuys Sunday, killing three crew members and injuring 13 persons–mostly firemen trapped by a sudden sheet of flame while trying to cut their way to the victims.

No passengers were aboard the Mercer Enterprises DC-6 charter plane at 10:35 a.m. when it blew out a port engine on takeoff from Hollywood-Burbank airport in Burbank.

Nor, because of the rain, was there the usual crowd of golfers on three courses in the Sepulveda Dam Recreation Area when the big aircraft came to earth short of the Van Nuys Airport runway, bouncing along for 1,000 feet and crashed into a small clubhouse and mobile home.

With the forward control compartment of the DC-6 crushed, golf starter Gene McVey, 55, helped stewardesses Susan Master, 25, and Jan Butte, 24, along with steward trainee Guy DeMeo, 16, escape through an after-hatch. They were only slightly injured.

But pilot James Robert Seccombe, 38, of Glendale, copilot Jack Finger about 55, of Carpinteria and flight engineer Arthur Michael Bankers, 53, of Torrance were in the smashed cockpit and perhaps already dead.

Los Angeles city firemen were there quickly as the wrecked plane’s fuel began spreading through the mud. They sprayed foam and began cutting into the top of the fuselage with a portable rotary saw.

There suddenly was a whoosh and flames appeared just beneath the cockpit. Then there was a series of similar flashes and the fire spread like lightning, catching nearly two dozen firemen in its midst.

Times photographer Boris Yaro, who arrived before the first small explosion, said he saw at least a half-dozen firemen with their clothing aflame as they scrambled down off the wreckage or away from it.

Through the flames, other firemen grabbed those who were burning and rushed them to clear spots to throw them down in rain-stippled mud and beat out the flames.

Ten firemen were taken by helicopter to hospitals. Three of them were said to be in serious condition.

Worst off was Eugene Schmit, 27, taken to County-USC Medical Center with burns of the face and a foot. Capt. Larry Park, 34, was there in serious condition with possible smoke inhalation as well as burns on the face and neck. Serious too, was Raymond Walker, 31, with burns on both legs and a wrist. …

A follow up story by staff writer Pat B. Anderson in the June 11, 1978, Los Angeles Times reported:

“Two of the hospitalized firefighters needed skin grafts followed by months of medical care,” Chief Darrell Thompson, safety officer for the Los Angeles Fire Department, said, “but there were no permanent injuries and the firefighters are all back at work.”

But because of the flash fire all firefighters must now wear not only fire-resistant coats but also fire-resistant pants and high-top boots when they go to the scene of a plane crash.

A state ruling which went into effect this month mandates that all new firefighting clothing purchased after September be made from fire-resistant material, Thompson said. …

The crash also changed the way the LAFD handles plane crashes. Firemen no longer used rotary saws to enter a damaged fuselage.

“It’s back to the ax,” Thompson said.

Before the Valley fire, the department has tested rotary saws without any problems, he said, but at the actual crash the rotary saw hit a steel bolt in the plane’s aluminum body and sparks from the bolt ignited the fuel. … has a report on the DC-6 crash.

Most of the photos in the above photo gallery were published in the Feb. 9, 1976, Los Angeles Times. One of Yaro’s photos was used by Associated Press.

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1 Comment

  1. November 14, 2014, 3:40 pm

    I thought most fire fighting gear that is usually worn to any wreck is flame retardant? At least it was when I wore it.

    By: john

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