Cerritos remembers mid-air jetliner crash

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Rod Boren/AP

Firefighters battle flames from a burning home in Cerritos, Calif., in this Aug. 31, 1986 file photo, as they straddle pieces of fuselage from an AeroMexico jetliner.

The city of Cerritos today marked the 25th anniversary of a jetliner crash that killed 82 people.

The Aeromexico Flight 498 crashed on Aug. 31, 1986 and was remembered Wednesday by community leaders, friend and family's of the victims.

Telemundo news reporter Vicky Gutierrez choked back tears as she recalled that her mother and brother visited Tijuana, but were not supposed to be on the DC-9 Aeromexico Flight headed to L.A.

“Trying to get home sooner, they took the place of two other passengers that didn’t make it. So they got on the plane and unfortunately had a terrible ending," she said.

On that Sunday — just before noon — the DC-9 jet collided with a small, private plane 6,500 feet in the air.

The single-engine aircraft plummeted into the athletic field of a Cerritos elementary school. The larger plane slammed into a Cerritos neighborhood and erupted into a fireball. The carnage spread across 10 blocks.

Near 183rd Street and Carmenita Road, neighbors could see a large portion of the plane stretching from the sidewalk into the backyard of a house. KPCC’s Nick Roman — then at another station — reported on the crash on the day it happened.

“The plane had smashed through the cinderblock wall which runs along the sidewalk. That home and the home next to it and the home next to that one were all burnt away," he said.

A quarter-century after it happened, dozens of people gathered for a public memorial at Cerritos Sculpture Garden. They honored all 82 people who died in the accident, including 15 on the ground.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe was the mayor of Cerritos at the time. He recalled that after the crash, he and other leaders pushed lawmakers in D.C. to draft new safety regulations.

“And out of this we got the collision avoidance system mandated in both small and big aircraft so something like that could not happen today. So I mean, that’s the good news," he said.

Investigators concluded that pilot error on the smaller plane and air traffic control failures caused the collision.

Some people at the tribute snapped pictures of marble and granite monuments banked with flowers. Others just lingered over the inscribed names of the people they recall on this anniversary and every day.

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