DC3 Aircraft Crash Site in Los Gatos Canyon

DC-3 Chartered by the U.S. Immigration Service

On January 28, 1948, a twin-engine DC-3C chartered by the U.S. Immigration Service from Airline Transport Carriers of Burbank, California crashed in western Fresno County's Los Gatos Canyon, killing all 32 people on board, including 28 Mexican farm workers being deported by the U.S. Immigration Service. Eyewitnesses saw at least nine people leap to their deaths. Twelve of the farm workers were never identified. The newspaper reported later that hundreds from "Fresno's Mexican colony" - the local Latino community - wept during Catholic services at a mass burial.

The plane crashed in Los Gatos Creek Canyon west from the town of Coalinga. The site is on private land and trespassing is prohibited. The site is a small empty field that can be seen from the county road. The wreckage site was cleaned up soon after the crash and nothing is left. Treasure hunters using metal detectors removed remaining debris during the 1950s/1960s.

Newspaper Accounts:

Coalinga Record, January 29, 1948. "32 Killed in Los Gatos Airline Disaster Yesterday: 100 See Men Leap to Death as Plane Plunges into Canyon."

New York Times, Jan. 29, 1948. A chartered Immigration Service plane crashed and burned in western Fresno County.

San Francisco Chronicle, January 29, 1948. "32 Die in Air Crash: DC-3 Deporting Mexicans Burns in Fresno County."

San Francisco Chronicle, February 14, 1948. "Investigation on Flight, Inquiry Told."


Except for being memorialized by the social justice folk singer Woody Guthrie, who wrote and sung Deportee, this DC-3 crash would be just another obscure accident site. You may read the lyrics to Deportee on The Woody Guthrie Foundation website.

Woody Guthrie had the mistaken understanding of the bracero program, which was created by the U.S. Congress in 1942 and by an agreement between the United States and Mexico. The law permitted Mexican farm laborers into the United States to work on farms because of the sever labor shortage caused by World War II. The agreement with Mexico required the United States to guarantee transportation and repatriation of all Mexicans entering the United States under this program. The labor contractors were expected to provide transportation to and from the border. If the contractor or farmer failed to provide transportation back to Mexico, then the U.S. Immigration Service was required to repatriation the Mexican citizens. Being a "Deportee" in this fashion was simply the U.S. government meeting their obligation under the treaty and in no way affected the labor status of the bracero.

Copyright ©, 2005; Updated May 23, 2016