Hughes Airwest Flight 706, a DC-9, was to fly from Los Angeles, CA (LAX) to Seattle, WA (SEA) with intermediate stops at Salt Lake City (SLC), Boise (BOI), Lewiston (LWS), Pasco (PSC) and Yakima (YKM). The aircraft departed Los Angeles at 18:02. At 18:09 the crew reported leaving 12,000 feet and Los Angeles ARTCC cleared them direct to Daggett.
At 17:16, a US Marine Corps McDonnell Douglas F-4B Phantom Bu# 151458 departed Naval Auxiliary Air Station (NAAS) Fallon for a flight to MCAS El Toro at low altitude. The aircraft had several technical difficulties, including an inoperative transponder and a leak in the oxygen system.
Due to deteriorating visibility northwest of Palmdale, the crew climbed to 15,500 feet. Shortly after level-off, aircraft was 50 miles from MCAS El Toro. The pilot executed a 360° aileron roll at this time, which took approximately three seconds to complete. The Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) estimated that the true airspeed in the climb and after level-off was 420 knots.
At 15,150 feet, the F-4B collided with the Airwest DC-9 about one minute and twenty seconds after the roll. After the collision, the F-4 began to tumble violently about the lateral axis. The RIO waited about 5 seconds and after seeing numerous warning lights in the cockpit, ejected from the aircraft. The ejection was successful and he parachuted to the ground without injury. The F-4B pilot did not survive the accident.
PROBABLE CAUSE: The failure of both crews to see and avoid each other but it is recognized that they had only marginal capability to detect, assess, and avoid the collision. Other causal factors include a very high closure rate, comingling of IFR and VFR traffic in an area where the limitation of the ATC system precludes effective separation of such traffic, and failure of the crew of BuNo458 to request radar advisory service, particularly considering the fact that they had an inoperable transponder."
We had to cut our way down the 50-60 degree slopes to reach the tail section. (LostFlights File Photo)
We encountered Poison Oak, Rattlesnakes, and Ticks on our way into the tail section site. Cougar, Mountain Lion, and Bear also inhabit the area. (LostFlights File Photo)
Finally after hours hacking our way through the vegetation we reached the remains of the tail section. (LostFlights File Photo)
The DC-9 tail rested on a steep 60 degree slope and would occasionally move as we worked our way around it. (LostFlights File Photo)
This photo shows how the tail was cut from the main fuselage. (LostFlights File Photo)
Fellow aviation enthusiast Romano Urbat inspects the tail section. This photo also reveals the steep angle of the sloping terrain. (LostFlights File Photo)
The helicopter sling strap was still attached after 24 years. (LostFlights File Photo)
While it was great to finally reach the tail section, it also became obvious that this was not the main impact site of the DC-9.
Through research, I would later find out that an attempt to remove the tail section from the impact site failed as the tail started to "fly" below the helicopter. Fearing a crash, the pilot of the helicopter released the tail and it fell into this side canyon about a 1/4 mile from where he picked it up.
Apparently it was decided to be more trouble than it was worth and it was left behind. (LostFlights File Photo)
Using maps, compass, and a GPS we tried to determine the main impact site of the DC-9. It proved to be an impossible task from the ground. (LostFlights File Photo)