Mystery Still Surrounds '53 Peninsula Plane Crash
Oct. 30 - KGO (KGO) -- Fifty-three years ago this month, a fireball exploded on a heavily wooded San Mateo County hillside. It was a plane crash on Kings Mountain -- the deadliest air disaster ever on the Peninsula. Now some locals are trying to make sure we don't forget the final flight of the "Resolution."
The trails that ring Kings Mountain are as beautiful as they are tranquil. So peaceful that it's easy to walk right by the pieces of metal and other debris that dot the Resolution trail.
SFO air traffic controller Greg Kingery almost missed it, but once he saw the bits of wreckage, he knew exactly what it meant.
Greg Kingery, SFO Air Traffic Controller: "That's when I got kind of a lump in my throat and the hairs raised up and you actually realize this beautiful setting you're sitting in was just a horrific scene 53 years ago."
It dominated the local papers in late October 1953. An Australian airliner on final approach to what was then San Francisco Municipal Airport, went off course and slammed into a hillside in San Mateo County. All 19 passengers and crew aboard were killed.
On a clear blue day last week, when takeoffs and landings were at a minimum, a small convoy of trucks drove a route most civilians never get to take -- the same ones used by airliners to get to the runways at SFO. And on runway 28-left -- closed especially for this event -- a local man places a torn and bent piece of wreckage on the numbers, symbolically finishing the flight of the doomed airplane.
Christopher O'Donnell, FlightOfTheResolution.org: "This part from the actual plane, the Resolution, has made its final flight, final destination and its final touchdown today."
The crash of the Resolution has become a near obsession for Christopher O'Donnell -- an Australian native who now lives in San Mateo County.
Christopher O'Donnell: "This is the worst aviation accident in the county's history, claiming the lives of all onboard."
He has studied every aspect of it for the past several years.
Christopher O'Donnell: "It's still a mystery to this day."
What we do know is that a Douglas DC-6, belonging to British Commonwealth Pacific Airlines, left Sydney, Australia 53 years ago. Because of its limited range, the plane stopped for refueling in Auckland, New Zealand, Fiji and Honolulu on its way to San Francisco.
Early on the morning of October 29, 1953 at the end of a better than 7,000-mile journey, the pilot made a fateful mistake. He should have flown northeast towards what is now the San Mateo Bridge before turning onto final approach into the airport. Instead, investigators found the plane was several miles too far south, too low to clear the hilltops.
Christopher O'Donnell: "Being 200 feet too low, he started to come into the woods, and he clipped a wing and flipped on his back and went in head first on the other side of the hill."
Greg Kingery: "Was there a navigational mistake, was there a combination of mistakes as there often is during an accident? Or was there something completely different? We may never know."
The dead were mostly Australian citizens. There were a few Americans among the victims.
The crash did lead to better navigational aids and clearer landing procedures at SFO. Since then, there have been no fatal airline crashes at the airport.
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