In the early morning of June 25, 1965, an Air Force C-135 Stratolifter with 72 Marines and 12 crew members, took off from El Toro Marine Corps Air Station and crashed into a nearby mountain.
Staff writers Roy Haynes and Art Berman reported in the June 26, 1965, Los Angeles Times:
The C-135 aircraft, military version of the Boeing 707, slammed into Loma Ridge, which rises 1,300 feet and is 4 1/2 miles from the end of the El Toro runway, within a minute after takeoff Friday morning. …
Death was instantaneous for all aboard as the huge jet disintegrated in flames, spewing bodies and parts of bodies over the grass-covered hillside over a mile-wide area.
A Marine spokesman said the aircraft should have climbed more rapidly after taking off from the 380-foot-elevation runway and also should have been banking to the left toward the ocean.
Officials said the airport tower lost contact with the plane immediately after giving clearance for takeoff at 1:45 a.m. and then lost radar contact.
An air-ground search was launched immediately.
On board the plane were 70 enlisted men from the 2nd Replacement Company, Staging Battalion, Camp Pendleton, who were being transferred to the 3rd Marine Division at Okinawa. The 70 men had been gathered from all over the country in the last week under normal replacement procedures.
Parts of the 3rd Marine Division have been fighting in Vietnam.
Two other Marines were “hitch-hiking” a ride, Camp Pendleton reported.
The crewmen were from the 18th Air Transport Squadron, McGuire Air Force Base, N.J., and had arrived Thursday in El Toro on routine assignment for the Military Air Transport Service. …
It took more than four hours to find the crash site because rolling fog and drizzle obscured the mountains.
Chief Warrant Officer John W. Andre, 46, and a four-man crew spotted the crashed plane from a helicopter at 6 a.m. on the fourth search flight of the early morning.
“At first I thought there were survivors shining flashlights at us,” said Andre. “Then we got closer and saw they were little grass fires.”
Andre maneuvered low enough to drop off a medical officer, Navy Lt. L. B. Frenger, and a crewman, Sgt. Bill Hastings.
“As soon as we looked,” said Hastings, “we could tell there was no one left. Even rabbits were dead.”
“We saw there was no possibility of survivors,” said Andre, “so we returned and picked up guards to place at the scene.”
The four-jet aircraft was loaded with maximum capacity of 84 persons and 8,000 gallons of fuel when it smashed into the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains at an estimated 300 m.p.h. …
At mid-morning, helicopters began ferrying bodies to a temporary morgue in an El Toro hanger, but the operation was halted shortly after noon when fog and rain limited visibility.
By late afternoon, all 84 bodies had been removed or located in hard-to-reach areas. The Orange County coroner’s staff had identified many bodies through dog-tags and fingerprints and were trying to identify others.
At Camp Pendleton, 20 miles to the south, 1,400 men from the replacement company were assigned to telephone their next of kin from a mobile telephone trailer to report that they weren’t aboard the ill-fated plane. …
Staff photograph John Malmin covered the crash site. The four photos in the above photo gallery were published in the June 26, 1965, Los Angeles Times.
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