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Expiration Dates are Important When You Fly

Thirty-four years ago, in 1978, during an all week San Diego business trip I came down with a debilitating flu that forced me to return home to Los Angeles midweek. I scheduled that Wednesday to take off at 9:00 am at Lindberg Field, but was so sick while leaving my hotel that I missed my flight and instead rescheduled it at 10:00 am. I should remind people that this was in the days of no 24/7 newscasts, iPhones, social media and the like. At that time, being ill, I was not interested in the newspapers or television, just getting to my flight on time.

As I arrived at the airport another passenger in line told me what had just happened, a mid-air collision. As I boarded my PSA Jet and sat down, I figured the possibilities of another crash like that had just moved up into the zillions to one chance for that kind of accident again that day. Anyway, I was so sick that I just wanted to fly home to go jump into bed. 

As I took off flying up through and over the black smoke as it was still wafting up into the skies from the air crash site, it was then the realization hit that it could have been me. After all, my PSA flight was out at 10:00 am since I missed it at 9:00 am which was a slight paradigm shift that avoided that shared commercial air space with smaller private aircraft, the combined early preemptive warning communication errors of flight tower controllers and both pilots which led to an unavoidable mid-air plane collision catastrophe killing everyone on board the airplanes with collateral victims on the ground. 

Message here? Everyone is born with an expiration date stamp on their forehead. Always look around at the other airplane passengers sitting next to you to make sure theirs is not stamped with that day's date...Hmmn.

Mid-air Collision kills 153

PSA Jet & Cessna Plane - The simulated picture here at the impact point shows that Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) Flight 182 was a Boeing 727-214 commercial airliner jet as it collides in mid-air with a private Cessna 172 over San Diego, killing 153 people at 9:00 am on Wednesday, September 25, 1978. The wreckage of the planes fell into a populous neighborhood and did extensive damage on the ground.

This was Pacific Southwest Airlines' first accident involving fatalities, the death toll of 144 makes it the deadliest aircraft disaster in California history. It was also the deadliest plane crash in the history of the United States until American Airlines Flight 191 went down eight months later.

David Lee Boswell and his instructor, Martin Kazy, were in the process of a flying lesson in a single-engine Cessna 1732 on the morning of September 25, practicing approaches at San Diego's Lindbergh Field airport. After two successful passes, Boswell aimed the Cessna toward the Montgomery Field airport northeast of San Diego.

At the same time, Pacific Southwest Flight 182 was approaching San Diego. The jet, a Boeing 727, was carrying 144 passengers and crew members from Sacramento, after a stopover in Los Angeles. Though air-traffic controllers at Lindbergh had told Boswell to keep the Cessna below 3,500 feet altitude as it flew northeast, the Cessna did not comply and changed course without informing the controllers.

The pilots of Flight 182 could see the Cessna clearly at 9 a.m., but soon lost sight of it and failed to inform the controllers. Meanwhile, the conflict-alert warning system began to flash at the air-traffic control center. However, because the alert system went off so frequently with false alarms, it was ignored. The controllers believed that the pilots of the 727 had the Cessna in view. Within a minute, the planes collided.

The fuel in the 727 burst into a massive fireball upon impact. A witness on the ground reported that she saw her "apples and oranges bake on the trees." The Boeing and Cessna nose-dived straight into San Diego's North Park neighborhood, destroying 22 homes and killing seven people on the ground. All 144 people on the 727 were killed, as well as both of the Cessna's pilots, 153 total.

The midair collision contributed to San Diego's Lindbergh Field airport being ranked 10th among the world's Most Extreme Airports in a two-hour documentary of the same name released in July 2010, which aired in the U.S. on the History Channel. The PSA 182 accident caused the revision of air traffic rules applicable to the busiest airports across the U.S., with the intention of improving separation of aircraft operating in the vicinity of large airports.

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