Rossmoor resident recalls when Navy Jet landed in his backyard
Burton Schild, an orthodontist, was one of Rossmoor’s original residents, owning a home on Yellowtail Drive that backed up to Los Alamitos Blvd (later changed to Seal Beach Blvd.). Now retired, last year Burton took a creative writing class at Long Beach State. Instructed to write about what you know, Burton chose to write about something he knew intimately – the day a Navy fighter jet crashed into his backyard. Fortunately none of his family was hurt and Burton tells the story with fear and humor. He graciously has let us reprint it here.
PROVIDENCE ON YELLOWTAIL DRIVE
By Burton Schild
Long Beach Press-Telegram – December 16, 1966
“Jet Bomber Crashes in Rossmoor
Debris Sets Fire, rips into homes. Navy pilot chutes to safety. No one seriously injured.
December 15, 4:15 p.m.
“Dr Schild, your wife is calling. She wants to speak with you and sounds very upset.”
As I walk briskly down the hallway, toward my private office, I wondered “What did those kids do now?”
Burt, you must come home. There has been a terrible plane crash. People have been killed. It hit electric lines, which fell, sparking, into our backyard. We have no electricity or phone. I’m calling from Harriett Devers house. It came through our backyard and barely missed our house. Come home!”
“Are you and the kids OK?”
“Yes, we are.” And I felt life for the first time.
“Well, if you and the kids are OK, I have a few patients to finish up, then I’ll come right home.”
“Come home now,” she insisted. “Come home now!”
I immediately alerted my staff. “Becky, please chip the cement on the bands I just inserted, and check the patients for loose or broken appliances. Sara, help Becky, and when you are done, dismiss everyone. Louella, please explain to the parents in the waiting room that I’ve had an emergency at home and re-appoint the patients.”
As I dashed down the hall, I removed my gown, grabbed my windbreaker and sped home in my new Buick Electra.
Los Alamitos Naval Air Station
Los Alamitos, CA
December 15,1966 3:15pm
The young Marine captain taxied toward the end of the runway in preparation for a routine flight. When air traffic control gave permission to take off, he gunned the engine of his Douglas Skyhawk, which accelerated instantly down the flight path, and as he pulled back on the stick, swiftly became airborne. Then the unthinkable occurred; his magnificent bird suddenly lost power and he realized he would not clear the eucalyptus grove which was dead ahead. As he activated his eject mechanism he must have thought, “I’m going to die.”
Our home on Yellowtail Drive in Rossmoor backed onto Los Alamitos Boulevard, with a beautiful eucalyptus grove located on the opposite side of the thoroughfare. Beyond that lay the Los Alamitos Naval Air Station. The date was December 15, 1966 at 3:30pm.
My pregnant wife, Florence, with 6-year old Steve at her side, stood at the kitchen sink, gazing peacefully through the window at the gently rustling foliage of the tall trees. Stevie’s four year brother, Lindy, and his playmate, Mark Devers, busily shaped Play-Dough in one of the bedrooms.
Suddenly the trees tore asunder, as branches and leaves, exploded in all directions. They heard an ear-splitting roar as a flaming metal monster hurtled toward them. It broke through th3e high-tension lines, which fell sputtering into the backyard. A sudden surge of adrenalin crossed the placenta, causing our unborn daughter to kick violently. Flo thought, “Oh, God, we’re going to die.”
In the air above Rossmoor, 3:35 pm
The explosive energy of the ejection jettison the pilot straight up into the air, causing him to temporarily black out. When he quickly regained consciousness, his apprehension was relieved upon perceiving the billowing canopy of his open chute above him. He touched down with substantial force upon the roof of a camper parked on Rowena Drive, experienced a sharp pain in his leg, breathed a sigh of relief and may have thought, “Thank God I made it.”
Rossmoor, 4:45 pm
When I attempted to enter Yellowtail Drive, a wooden barrier blocked my way and a burly Navy shore patrolman approached the car.
“I’m sorry, sir, this street is closed to all traffic,” he stated emphatically.
“I live at 3412,” I replied.
He asked to see my ID. I acquiesced, and he permitted my entry. The acrid stench of kerosene seared my nostrils as I pulled into the driveway and attempted to activate the automatic garage door opener.
To my surprise the door did not respond and remained firmly closed, so I walked to the front door.
Once inside the friendly confines of the walls of my home, my eyes were greeted with flickering light of Sabbath candles, which under different circumstances, would have created a very romantic atmosphere. With a heart full of love, I fervently hugged and kissed Florence and the children and quietly thanked God for having spared their precious lives.
About an hour after I arrived home, someone knocked loudly on the front door. When I opened it there stood a tall, pleasant-looking, uniformed young man, who also wore the familiar “S.P.” armband. He firmly cautioned us against disturbing any of the wreckage in our backyard, since it was Navy property and would only be removed by Navy personnel. I then thought, “Hell, that Navy property certainly disturbed my family and me that day.”
Soon after that young man made his departure, I quietly entered my backyard, flashlight in hand and pilfered two pieces of property belonging to the U.S. Navy, and furtively hid them under a blanket in the back of my car.
I recently asked my son, Steve, now in his fifties, what his impressions were of that day. He responded, “It was over in a few seconds, so I had no time to be scared. I saw pieces of trees flying in all directions. When the plane appeared, the wings were bent back, but it was not on fire until it hit the electric lines and the sparks ignited the fuel spilling from the wing tanks. Striking the wires seemed to cause a “trampoline effect”, bouncing it in an upward direction. I ran to the front door and pieces of the trees were still falling. I looked up the street and saw a great deal of damage, mostly to the garages.”
This was the first time I had made inquiries concerning his impression wand was absolutely amazed by the sharp detail of his memory.
Previous to the Rossmoor crash, right after Lindy was born, I had personally witnessed another accident. A large Naval twin-engine radar plane caught my attention because of the crescendo of noise it created. I looked up, and to my horror, saw that the left engine was aflame. The pilot then banked sharply to the left, possibly to avoid a populated area, and the maneuver caused the fuselage to become engulfed in the flames. I later learned that it had crashed on the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station, just south of the airfield. Nine young reservists lost their lives on that terribly sad day.
As a result of having experienced two airplane crashes in four years, we cancelled plans to construct a substantial addition to our house and placed its sale in the hands of a local realtor. Prospective buyers never failed to ask about the obvious void in the trees. Finally, it was sold to a Vietnam veteran who enjoyed watching the military planes take off. They represented safety for him and his embattled comrades.
About a year and a half later, we moved to a home beneath the landing pattern for the sleepy little Long Beach Municipal Airport, long before Jet Blue and the Boeing C-17 arrived on the scene. However my grandchildren have always enjoyed observing the low-flying planes from the vantage point of our swimming pool. Ironically, about two years after we moved, the military planes stopped flying regularly out of the Los Alamitos Naval Air Station.
On the Saturday following the crash, I transported the two pieces of purloined property belonging to the U.S. Navy to my office where I exhibited them for my pati4nts perusal. On the journey home in my rear-view mirror, I spotted a black and white police car with its lights flashing. My heart sank.
“Did I do something wrong, officer?”
“You were speeding. Your license and registration, please.”
“Couldn’t you give me a warning, officer?”
“License and registration, please.” He sounded annoyed. Since I was somewhat intimidated, I quickly complied.
“Oh, you live on Yellowtail Drive. Didn’t a plane crash there a few days ago?”
Yes, officer, It came through my back yard. Look at the pieces of wreckage in the back of my car.”
“Well, sir, I think you’ve had enough problems during the past few days,” he remarked with a true sense of compassion. He returned my license and registration with no accompanying citation.
Two miracles occurred related to Yellowtail Drive that week. My family was spared when the ill-fated Skyhawk encroached on our property, and I was stopped for speeding but did not receive a traffic ticket.
I was blessed and still feel that way, to this day.
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