DC3 Aircraft Crash Site in Los Gatos Canyon

San Francisco Chronicle, January 29, 1948 (page 1, col. 6.)

32 Die in Air Crash

DC-3 Deporting Mexicans Burns in Fresno County

Death ended the aerial deportation of 28 Mexican nationals yesterday near Coaling in Fresno county.

With three crew members of the chartered non-certificated plane and a veteran Immigration service guard, they died when the plan caught fire in mid-air broke up, and crashed.

None of the 32 person aboard survived. The death toll was one of the greatest in the history of California aviation disasters.

Members of the crew were:

Captain Frank Atkinson 30, of Long Beach.

First Officer Marion Ewing, 32, of Balboa.

Stewardess Bobbie Atkinson, wife of the pilot.

Immigration Service Guard Frank Chaffin, 63 of 1350 Albina Avenue, Berkley.

A DC-3

The plane, a Douglas DC-3 airliner, was chartered by the Immigration Service from the Airline Transport Carrier, Inc., of Burbank. It took off from Oakland Airport shortly after 9 a.m. yesterday, with its destination as El Centro, Calif., and Mexico.

The flight was a "routine transfer" of Mexican nationals subject to deportation. Aerial transportation for such purpose has been used for more than a year, said I.F. Wixon, director of the Immigration Service in San Francisco.

The plane was droning over the parched fields of the San Joaquin valley about 83 miles west of Fresno at 10:30 a.m. when disaster struck. Eyewitnesses placed its altitude between 1500 and 5000 feet.

W.L. Childers, a rancher, said he notice the plane trailing smoke from the left engine. Rudy Larson, a cook at the Fresno county road camp near the scene of the disaster, said he saw the right engine break into flame.

Wing Falls Off

They both agree that a wing fell off. The unsupported fuselage dived to the ground nose first. Eyewitnesses said that before the plane crashed and broke into flames, several persons either jumped or fell from the plane.

The bodies were scattered over a wide area.

Fifteen of them were found in the Los Gatos canyon area, where the plane crashed. The others were found inside the plane.

One of the leaders in the rescue attempt and in the task of removing the bodies was Melvin Millworth, superintendent of the county road camp near the scene of the crash.

Three investigation of the crash were ordered.

Coroner A.M Yost of Fresno county said he would set a date for an inquest immediately.

The Civil Aeronautics Administration immediately sent two inspectors to the scene to make a firsthand probe of the wreckage in an effort to determine the cause of the fire.

The company sent its own staff of investigators, headed by Charles C. Sherman. The charter company's headquarters said the plane was purchased as new in 1946 and then had only logged 35 hours flying time.

Guard Chaffin was a veteran of the Immigration Service. He was nearing the retirement age and his assignment was expected to by one of his last before he left the service. He is survived by his widow, Mary Chaffin, and three stepsons. Two of them are Police Sergeant Robert Bowers of El Cerrito and Police Chief George C. Bowers of Winnetka, Ill.

Copyright ©, 2005; Updated May 23, 2016