1948 Los Gatos DC-3 crash

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Los Gatos crash
FourStar N135FS STT 14Aug2009.jpg
A DC-3 similar to the accident aircraft
Date28 January 1948
SummaryFire, originating in the left engine-driven fuel pump
Site Diablo mountains, west of Coalinga, Fresno County, California, United States
36°14′12″N120°35′06″W / 36.2366°N 120.5849°W / 36.2366; -120.5849 Coordinates: 36°14′12″N120°35′06″W / 36.2366°N 120.5849°W / 36.2366; -120.5849
Aircraft type C-47B-40-DK Skytrain
OperatorAirline Transport Carriers
(under INS contract)
Registration NC36480
Flight origin Oakland, California [1]
Stopover Burbank, California
Destination El Centro, California

On 28 January 1948, a DC-3 plane carrying 32 persons, mostly Mexican farm laborers, including some from the bracero guest worker program, crashed in the Diablo Range, 20 miles west of Coalinga, California. The crash, which killed everyone aboard the plane, inspired the song "Deportee" by Woody Guthrie. [1]

The bracero program was a series of laws and diplomatic agreements, initiated on August 4, 1942, when the United States signed the Mexican Farm Labor Agreement with Mexico. The agreement guaranteed decent living conditions and a minimum wage of 30 cents an hour; it also allowed the importation of contract laborers from Guam as a temporary measure during the early phases of World War II.

A guest worker program allows foreign workers to temporarily reside and work in a host country until a next round of workers is readily available to switch. Guest workers typically perform low or semi-skilled agricultural, industrial, or domestic labor in countries with workforce shortages, and they return home once their contract has expired.

Diablo Range mountain range in California, United States of America

The Diablo Range is a mountain range in the California Coast Ranges subdivision of the Pacific Coast Ranges. It is located in the eastern San Francisco Bay area south to the Salinas Valley area of northern California, the United States.


Some of the passengers were being returned to Mexico at the termination of their bracero contracts, while others were illegal immigrants being deported. Initial news reports listed only the pilot, first officer, and stewardess, with the remainder listed only as "deportees." [1] Only 12 of the victims were initially identified. The Hispanic victims of the accident were placed in a mass grave at Holy Cross Cemetery in Fresno, California, with their grave marked only as "Mexican Nationals". [2]


The Douglas DC-3 aircraft, owned by Airline Transport Carriers of Burbank, California, was chartered by the Immigration and Naturalization Service to fly twenty-eight Mexican citizens, who were being deported to the INS Deportation Center in El Centro, California. [3]

Douglas DC-3 airliner and military transport aircraft family

The Douglas DC-3 is a fixed-wing propeller-driven airliner that revolutionized air transport in the 1930s and 1940s. Its lasting effect on the airline industry and World War II makes it one of the most significant transport aircraft ever produced. It has a cruise speed of 207 mph (333 km/h), capacity of 21 to 32 passengers or 6,000 lbs of cargo and a range of 1,500 mi (2,400 km).

Immigration and Naturalization Service former immigration service of the United States

The United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was an agency of the U.S. Department of Labor from 1933 to 1940 and the U.S. Department of Justice from 1940 to 2003.

Deportation expulsion of people from a place or country

Deportation is the expulsion of a person or group of people from a place or country. The term expulsion is often used as a synonym for deportation, though expulsion is more often used in the context of international law, while deportation is more used in national (municipal) law.

For reasons never explained, pilot Frank Atkinson and co-pilot Marion Ewing took a DC-3 that had seats for only twenty-six passengers (seven hours overdue for a routine and required safety inspection) for the flight, instead of an aircraft certified to carry thirty-two passengers. [3] Arriving in Oakland, California, after a routine flight, the crew was joined by INS guard Frank Chaffin. The flight was to refuel at Burbank, California, before continuing to El Centro. [3]

Oakland, California City in California, United States

Oakland is the largest city and the county seat of Alameda County, California, United States. A major West Coast port city, Oakland is the largest city in the East Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area, the third largest city overall in the San Francisco Bay Area, the eighth most populated city in California, and the 45th largest city in the United States. With a population of 425,195 as of 2017, it serves as a trade center for the San Francisco Bay Area; its Port of Oakland is the busiest port in the San Francisco Bay, the entirety of Northern California, and the fifth busiest in the United States of America. An act to incorporate the city was passed on May 4, 1852, and incorporation was later approved on March 25, 1854, which officially made Oakland a city. Oakland is a charter city.

Burbank, California City in California, United States

Burbank is a city in Los Angeles County in the Los Angeles metropolitan area of Southern California, United States, 12 miles (19 km) northwest of downtown Los Angeles. The population at the 2010 census was 103,340.

At approximately 10:30am, workers at the Fresno County Industrial Road Camp, located 21 mi (34 km) northwest of Coalinga, California, noticed the DC-3 trailing white smoke from its port engine. [3] The port wing suddenly ripped off, spilling nine passengers out of the gaping hole in the fuselage. [3] The aircraft caught fire and spiralled to the ground near Los Gatos Creek, exploding in a ball of fire. [3] The investigation by the Civil Aeronautics Authority discovered that a fuel leak in the port engine's fuel pump ignited and the slip-stream fanned the flames to a white hot intensity, acting like an oxy-acetylene torch, burning through the main-spar, causing the crash. [3]

Coalinga, California City in California, United States

Coalinga is a city in Fresno County and the western San Joaquin Valley, in central California.

Los Gatos Creek formerly known as Arroyo Pasajero or Arroyo Poso de Chane, is a creek in Fresno County, California. Its source is in the north end of Garcia Canyon in the Diablo Range near Benito Pass. From there it runs through Los Gatos Canyon, in the eastern foothills of the Diablo Range, then passes across Pleasant Valley, north of Coalinga, where Warthan Creek joins it east of the town. Then it flows eastward to its confluence with Jacalitos Creek, before it passes to the north of the Guijarral Hills, into the San Joaquin Valley, where it is joined by Zapato Chino Creek.

Oxy-fuel welding and cutting acetylene V propane

Oxy-fuel welding and oxy-fuel cutting are processes that use fuel gases and oxygen to weld and cut metals, respectively. French engineers Edmond Fouché and Charles Picard became the first to develop oxygen-acetylene welding in 1903. Pure oxygen, instead of air, is used to increase the flame temperature to allow localized melting of the workpiece material in a room environment. A common propane/air flame burns at about 2,250 K, a propane/oxygen flame burns at about 2,526 K, an oxyhydrogen flame burns at 3,073 K and an acetylene/oxygen flame burns at about 3,773 K.

Initial news reports listed only the pilot, first officer, stewardess, and the immigration guard, with the remainder listed only as "deportees". [1] Only 12 of the victims were initially identified. [4] The Hispanic victims of the accident were placed in a mass grave at Holy Cross Cemetery in Fresno, California, with their grave marked only as "Mexican Nationals". [2] The grave is 84 by 7 ft (25.6 by 2.1 m) with two rows of caskets and not all of the bodies were buried the first day, but the caskets at the site did have an overnight guard. [4]

Woody Guthrie song, "Deportee"

Singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie wrote a poem in 1948 lamenting the anonymity of the workers killed in the crash, identified only as "deportees" in media reports. When Guthrie's poem was set to music a decade later by college student Martin Hoffman, it became the folk song "Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)". [1]

The song was popularized by Pete Seeger, [5] and was subsequently performed by Joan Baez, [6] Judy Collins, [7] Julie Felix, Cisco Houston [8] , Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Kelly, Martyn Joseph, The Byrds, Richard Shindell and Ani DiFranco among others. [1]


Cesar Chavez, later to become founder of the United Farm Workers union, learned of the tragic crash while serving in the US Navy, helping convince him that farm workers should be treated "as important human beings and not as agricultural implements". [6]

The names of all the victims were published in local papers in 1948. [9] In 2009, writer Tim Z. Hernandez began to seek out the gravesite and those names. [10] With the help of others, by July 2013 all had been identified (some of the names were misspelled in the records), and the money raised for a more fitting memorial. [1] [11] On 2 September 2013 (Labor Day), a Deportee Memorial Headstone was unveiled at a mass in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Fresno attended by more than 600. [12] The memorial includes all twenty-eight names of the migrant workers, which included three women, and one man born in Spain, not Mexico as widely reported. [12] [13]

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Marcum, Diana (7 September 2013). "Names emerge from shadows of 1948 crash". LA Times. Retrieved 19 March 2014.
  2. 1 2 Wilkey, Robin (3 September 2013). "'Deportees,' 28 Anonymous Mexican Farmworkers Killed In 1948 Plane Crash, Finally Named At Memorial". Huffington Post. Retrieved 19 March 2014.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Kulczyk, David (2009). Death in California – The Bizarre, Freakish, and Just Curious Ways People Die in the Golden State. Fresno, CA: Craven Street Books. p. 77. ISBN   978-1-884995-57-6.
  4. 1 2 "Victims of Valley's Worst Air Crash", Fresno Bee , Fresno, California, p. 1, 1 February 1948
  5. "60th anniversary of "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee)"". Indybay . Retrieved 16 October 2009.
  6. 1 2 "Join UFW President Arturo Rodriguez at memorial dedication for 28 'deportees' Labor Day, Sept. 2 in Fresno: The 'deportees' finally have their names". Press release. United Farm Workers. 26 August 2013. Archived from the original on 19 March 2014. Retrieved 19 March 2014.
  7. "The UFW: Songs and Stories, Sung and Told by UFW Volunteers" (PDF). Farmworker Movement Documentation Project. Retrieved 19 March 2014.
  8. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOqjlRsUnBM
  9. "'Deportee' Crash". Check-Six.com. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
  10. Marcum, Diana (2 September 2013). "Decades after crash, names of 28 "deportees" are read aloud". LA Times . Retrieved 27 October 2018.
  11. "Deportee Plane - Latino USA". latinousa.org (Podcast). 2018-09-13. Retrieved 2018-02-18.
  12. 1 2 Orozco, Ron. "Fresno memorial unveiled with 'deportee' names from 1948 crash". Archived from the original on 22 December 2013. Retrieved 19 March 2014.
  13. "The People Behind Guthrie's 'Deportee' Verses". National Public Radio.