SEPTEMBER 25, 1978

Boeing 727 Crashes in San Diego Residential Area.
Seven killed on the ground near Balboa Park.

Pacific Southwest Airlines flight 182, service from Sacramento to San Diego via Los Angeles, was descending through 11,000ft on approach to San Diego-Linbergh Field shortly before 9:00am on September 25, 1978. Along with Captain James McFeron, First Officer Robert Fox, and Flight Engineer Martin Whane, there were four cabin attendents and 128 passengers aboard the Boeing 727 that day.

A few minutes later, McFeron reported leaving 9,500ft and that the airport was in sight. San Diego Approach control then cleared 182 to make right traffic for a visual approach to runway 27.

Also in the air that morning was a Cessna 172 on an instrument training flight from Montgomery Field, another local airport some six miles north of Linbergh Field.

Approach Control called 182 to report traffic at it's 12 o'clock to which McFeron replied "we're looking." Approach Control then reported additional traffic at 12 o'clock which was the 172 climbing out on it's missed approach. First Officer Fox replied "OK-we've got that other 12." Approach then told the 172 to maintain a heading of 070 degrees and at or below 3,500ft for radar vectoring.

Following this, Approach again called 182 to advise them of the 172 climbing out of 1,700ft to which McFeron replied "Traffic in sight." Approach then told 182 to maintain visual separation and to contact Linbergh Field tower. At this point, 182 was descending to 3,200ft on an easterly heading.

The tower again told 182 of the Cessna traffic ahead to which McFeron replied "OK-we had it there a minute ago...I think he's passed off our right." 182 was then cleared to land. Meanwhile, the 172 had unexpectedly taken up an easterly heading and continued to climb.

As their paths closed, conflict alerts began going off at Approach Control, but because 182 had previously reported traffic in sight, they only called back the 172 to remind them of traffic in the vicinity. There was no reply.

Flight 182 had overtaken the climbing Cessna from almost directly behind, clipping it  with the right inboard wing of the 727. The Cessna 172 broke up, exploded, and crashed near the initial area of impact. The 727 was now trailing fuel and fire erupted from the damaged right wing. The aircraft entered a steep bank to the right and continued in this condition until impacting the ground just north of Balboa Park. All persons aboard the two aircraft were killed as well as seven people on the ground. ......

Initial reports of the incident were quick to place the blame on the small aircraft, saying it had "gotten in the way" of the PSA jet. However, both aircraft were operating under radar control and both were operating visually. Initial NTSB reports blamed the crew of flight 182 for not maintaining visual separation after they were instructed to do so from Approach Control. The report was not unanimously accepted however. Also cited as a cause of the incident was the 172's failure to maintain it's assigned heading of 070. It was also believed that San Diego Approach control should have offered more comprehensive radar separation since it's technology could support it. Controllers, however, stated that, since 182 had reported having the traffic in sight, they did not feel necessary to issue altitude restrictions to either aircraft.These factors caused the NTSB to to revise it rulings, finding both crew error and Air Traffic Control failure as probable cause.

Click for PSA Cockpit Voice Recorder Transcript

Information provided by the Aviation Disasters website

 Issues Main Page