In 1978, a Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) collided with a single-engine Cessna over San Diego’s North Park neighborhood killing 144 people. Our firm represented passengers in the flight – which to this day, is still the worst aircraft accident in California history.
The crash occurred three miles west of Lindbergh Field, San Diego’s international airport, on a clear weekday morning as the Boeing 727-214 was on visual approach. Ahead of the flight from Los Angeles was a Cessna 172M heading back to Montgomery Field after a student pilot and instructor had practiced approaches at Lindbergh.
Although the PSA pilot spotted the small plane, there was confusion over where it had gone after the initial sighting. The Cessna had altered its course right before the crash. As the command was given to lower the flaps and the landing gear, the Boeing 727 hit the Cessna from behind destroying it in flight. PSA flight 182 caught fire and crashed into a residential neighborhood. The two people on the Cessna were killed, along with all 135 PSA passengers, in addition to seven people on the ground. The National Transportation Safety Board concluded, with one dissenting member, the probable cause was the flight crew’s failure to “comply with the provisions of a maintain-visual-separation-clearance …” They also cited air traffic control procedures and instructions and “failure of the Cessna’s pilot to maintain his assigned heading.”