Flying in Style, to the Happiest Place...
May 22, 1968
Winging It to the Magic Kingdom...
Los Angeles Airways began a mail service circuit in the San Fernando Valley on October 1st, 1947, and thereby became the first helicopter-scheduled service operator, flying Sikorsky S-51s.
The service began with four routes which touched upon over 40 suburbs and totaled over 350 miles in distance. One of the shortest, only 12 miles, was also the most important - as it connected the municipal airport with the the roof of the Terminal Annex Post Office building.
Passenger services were inaugurated in November of 1954 and these services linked ten points with Los Angeles International Airport— making it the world's first helicopter airline, serving the Los Angeles Basin. In 1955, shortly after the a company providing regular passenger service between Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and the Disneyland-Anaheim heliport located adjacent to the Disneyland theme park. The service to the Disneyland Heliport service was initially provided using piston-engine Sikorsky S-55 helicopters, which were painted green & yellow, and could seat up to 12 passengers.
The service grew with the success of the park, and the heliport required relocation more than once. By 1960, the heliport was on its third site, and by early 1962, Los Angeles Airways had replaced the S-55 with Sikorsky S-61L helicopters - becoming the first civil operator of the craft. Now, the airline could carry twenty passengers and their baggage, plus a flight crew of three. The service was a perk for the rich and famous visitors to the park, and for many, their first flight in a helicopter.
On the afternoon of Wednesday, May 22, 1968, a Los Angeles Airways helicopter, registered as N303Y and carrying the callsign of Flight 841, departed the Disneyland heliport, westbound for LAX with 23 aboard. At 5:47, the helicopter was cruising at an altitude of 2,000 feet over the Los Angeles Basin when a mechanical failure occurred in the main rotor hub. One of the helo's rotor blades was slung off of its mounting, and the helicopter suddenly descended.
Air traffic controllers received a distress message from the craft, “L.A., we’re crashing, help us!”
"It was disintegrating right in the air, all sorts of pieces kept falling off and drifting away like feathers," said Edward Bilyeu, a service station attendant, who witnessed the accident. "The tail section fell off, and I could imagine there were people falling out of the helicopter. It wasn't afire at the time, but when it hit the ground, everything just went up in flames."
Mail bags spilled from the helicopter into the air, striking the roofs of houses and businesses, and giving the impression of falling bodies, as Flight 841 crashed onto a dairy farm near the intersection of Alondra Boulevard and Minnesota Street in the suburb of Paramount, and burst into flames. All 23 aboard were killed instantly.
Click here to see the crew and passenger list.
First on Scene...
Three ambulance drivers, working for Bower's Ambulance Service, were first at the crash site. They tried to free victims from the wreckage, but were driven back by the intense heat of the fire. Eight units of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, under Division Chief Walter Meagher, put out a grass blaze started by the crash.
But the firemen said all of the bodies were still in their seats in the blackened metal rubble, and the Sheriff's homicide deputies covered the charred remains with white sheets to shield them from the eyes of some two thousand gawkers.
Investigators from the Los Angeles office of the National Transportation Safety Board found the helicopter’s severed tail rotor in a used truck and tractor yard a block east of the crash site, and one of the rotor blades having sliced through the corrugated sheet metal roof of a chair manufacturing plant. They discovered that the mechanical failure in the helicopter’s main rotor hub allowed extreme lead-lag excursions of the rotor blades, one of which became detached from the swashplate, and it sliced into the fuselage. As a result, the other four rotor blades subsequently went out of control and fractured, as well as causing the rear fuselage and tail rotor pylon to separate. – destroying what was left of the helicopter.
Within three months of the crash of Flight 841, fate would strike a second time - LAA's 2nd Helo Crash - August 14, 1968