PSA 182

PSA 182: A Tragic Lack of Awareness

09:01:47

In preparation for landing, the crew begins lowering the landing gear. Something outside catches First Officer Fox’s attention, as he’s heard saying “There’s one underneath. I was looking at that inbound there.”

Eight seconds later, the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) picked up the sounds of a collision. At 9:01 and 47 seconds, the right wing of PSA 182 struck the Cessna, swatting it out of the sky. The debris of the small aircraft plummeted to the ground, the fuselage coming to rest on 32nd Street. Both Kazy and Boswell are killed. Steve Howell, a cameraman with San Diego’s channel 39, was attending an outdoor press event and captured footage of the Cessna falling from the sky.

The 727 has suffered extensive damage to its right wing; the fuel tank in the wing is ruptured and a fire breaks out. There’s also severe damage to the wing’s control surfaces, causing the plane to roll right. Captain McFeron alerts Lindbergh Tower that they’re going down as the crew struggles to gain control over the stricken aircraft.

In the end, their efforts prove fruitless.

At 9:02 and 7 seconds, just 20 seconds after impact, PSA 182 strikes the ground near the intersection of Dwight and Nile in the North Park area of San Diego. The crash kills everyone on board the jetliner as well as 7 people on the ground. Hans Wendt, a photographer with the San Diego County Public Relations Office, captured images of the doomed plane seconds before impact.

PSA 182
PSA Flight 182; photo by Hans Wendt (San Diego County Office of Public Relations)

It’s a terrifying image, one that truly conveys the hopelessness of the situation.

PSA 182: A Tragic Legacy

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that the likely cause of the crash had been the PSA crew’s failure to establish and maintain visual separation with the Cessna. The report also noted that the crew failed to notify the tower controller that they had lost sight of the smaller aircraft. Had they done so, corrective measures could have been taken that would have likely averted this tragedy.

Air traffic control was also found to bear responsibility for instructing PSA 182 to maintain visual separation at a time when radar could have been utilized to maintain separation. The Cessna’s deviation from its assigned head was also listed, though only as a finding. NTSB member Francis McAdams felt that this was inadequate, believing that the course deviation played a much larger role in the collision and should be treated accordingly.

As a result of the disaster, the NTSB issued a recommendation that Lindbergh Field be outfitted with a terminal radar system. This system would allow controllers to maintain separation of aircraft in the vicinity. This disaster was also one of several such accidents that led to the development and implementation of the Traffic Collision Alert and Avoidance System (TCAS). TCAS units, installed in every commercial aircraft, communicate with one another and, when they detect a collision is likely, issue both audible and visible warnings to the pilot.

If you would like to read the full CVR transcript, you can do so here.

If you would like to listen to an excerpt of the tower recording, you can do so here.

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