Offering Aviation History & Adventure First-Hand!


A Borrowed Plane

Near Concord, California

December 19, 1973

The Morning Marine Layer...

Low clouds hung 500 feet over the Diablo Valley of California, and fog obscured the sky as a small low-wing plane rose into the air above Buchanan Field. A slight, eight-knot wind blew from the northeast.

Keith K. Griffiths, a native of San Francisco, devout Mormon, and an Army veteran, was the president and chief engineer of Electaire Systems Inc. of Concord, and also a quality control consultant and a civil engineer, was flying to Oxnard to give a lecture.

"Man of the Year"...

Mr. Griffiths was given the Contra Costa County Dental Society's "Man of the Year" award in 1967 after his firm presented a gift of dental operating equipment to John Muir Hospital in Walnut Creek. As a pilot, he had over 200 hours of flight time, having earned his license in August of that year.

His nephew, Brett K. Griffiths, 17, joined him on the flight. Born in Santa Rosa, California, he was a painter who moved to Concord about five months prior. He had worked in Monterey before and was apparently on his way there.

The plane, a Piper PA-22 ‘Colt’, tail number N8254C, belonged to Dr. Joseph Kent Heaps. Griffiths had been known to borrow Heaps’ plane several times before.

Shortly into the initial climb after takeoff, something happened, and witnesses said the plane exploded when it hit a marshy field shortly after 6 a.m., digging a sizeable hole in the ground. Only the metal outlines of the plane were left after the crash. Ironically, the Contra Costa County Coroner's Office made the identification of the two bodies from dental charts.

First Lessons Ignored...

Investigators from the Federal Aviation Agency and the National Transportation Safety Association inspected the crash site to try to determine what caused the crash, and concluded that the pilot had inadequate preflight preparation, & initiated the flight into adverse weather conditions, and suffered spatial disorientation in the clouds. The resulting vertigo caused Griffiths to lose control of the plane.

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This page last updated Saturday, November 22, 2014

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