A Double Dose of Reality
Three months after Los Angeles Airways suffered the loss of one of their helicopters – resulting in the greatest loss of civilian life in a helicopter accident – another of their Sikorsky S-61L helicopters, registered as N300Y and carrying callsign Flight 417, was ferrying passengers from Los Angeles International Airport eastbound to the Disneyland heliport on the morning of Wednesday, August 14th, 1968.
At 10:35, while cruising at an altitude of 1,500 feet over the Los Angeles Basin, one of the main rotor head spindles failed and the attached main rotor blade separated completely from the central hub. Out of balance, the helicopter was instantly sent spinning in all directions, and its tail rotor rocketed loose from its mount.
Carl Shaw, 14, of Compton, said he heard the pilot scream, "Help! Helllll .. ." Shaw said it was the only human sound from the craft as it fell to the ground.
Dropping Like a Rock...
Without any directional control, the craft plummeted downwards and crashed in Pop Lueders Park in Compton, exploding into a ball of flames and wreckage. "He almost made it." said Shaw. "He was really doing a great job until it broke up."
All 21 aboard - 18 passengers and 3 crew members – were killed.
The founder and president of Los Angeles Airways, Clarence M. Belinn, lost more than just another helicopter in the crash, as his 13-year-old grandson, Christopher, was one of the passengers aboard Flight 417.
The End of a Dream...
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board found the the helo's severed tail rotor about three blocks west of the crash site. The NTSB concluded that the probable cause of the spindle failure was caused by metal fatigue and a metallurgical mistake that occurred when the spindle was manufactured.
Los Angeles Airways, which was largely subsidized by a federal government program supporting urban helicopter transportation, could not survive in the realm of competitive commerce. It went out of business in 1971, having been sold to Golden West Airlines, and finally, Hughes Tool Company (later Summa Corparation).