It has been almost 45 years since the Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 182 tragically took the lives of 144 people on September 25, 1978 – including passengers onboard and public on the ground.
The fatal accident, which was recorded as the deadliest air crash in American history at the time, happened on a seemingly perfect day for flying, with calm winds and clear skies.
But against all the normal odds, the Pacific Southwest Airlines Boeing 727 collided with another aircraft, the Cessna Skyhawk N7711G, smashing into the city of San Diego and killing all 135 people on the plane.
A chilling in-flight recording revealed the haunting last words of the captain and crew members in the cockpit, moments before disaster struck and claimed the lives of another seven bystanders.
Local flight controllers warned the Boeing 727 crew to stay aware of the Cessna that was also in the area – but a few minutes before the crash, they lost sight of it. First Officer Robert Fox, 38, could be heard speculating with Captain James McFeron, 42, about the smaller plane’s whereabouts.
“Yeah… I don’t see him now,” Fox says, then asks: “Are we clear of that Cessna?” To which Flight Engineer Martin Wahne replies: “Supposed to be.” There seems to be laughter before Captain McFeron says: “I saw him at one o’clock, he’s probably behind us now.”
But, the plane was actually just below it.Seconds later, the 727 is hit and McFeron says: “What have we got here?”, to which Fox responds in panic: “We’re hit man, we are hit.” McFeron can then be heard talking to air traffic controllers, “Tower, we’re going down, this is PSA.” And when he realizes the catastrophe that is about to happen, he says: “This is it baby!”
In the heartbreakingly moment that the plane comes crashing down on the city, McFeron addresses the passengers, saying, “Brace yourself”. An unidentified voice in the cockpit takes it as an opportunity to send a touching but heart-shattering message to their mom.
They can be heard saying, “Ma, I love you”, as the plan hits the ground. In total, 144 people died in the crash, including seven crew members, 30 additional employees, two Cessna occupants and seven residents – five women and two children.
At the time, it was America’s deadliest commercial air disaster, and surpassed eight months later when American Airlines Flight 191 crashed in Chicago on May 25, 1979.