What Caused The Crash Of Aeromexico Flight 498?

On August 31, 1986, Aeromexico’s flight 498 suffered an accident in Cerritos, California, while approaching Los Angeles International Airport. There were 82 total fatalities, including 15 on the ground, and it’s the airline’s deadliest accident. Let’s investigate further.

What Caused The Crash Of Aeromexico Flight 498?
On August 31, 1986, Aeromexico’s flight 498 suffered an accident before landing at Los Angeles International Airport. Photo: JetPix via Wikimedia Commons.

How did the accident happen?

Aeromexico’s flight 498 departed from Mexico City International Airport on Sunday, August 31, 1986. It was on route to Los Angeles with three stopovers in the Mexican cities of Guadalajara, Loreto, and Tijuana.

The airline operated the flight with a McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32, registration XA-JED. The aircraft first flew with Delta Air Lines in 1969 before entering into service with Aeromexico in November 1979.

Up to the final approach to Los Angeles, Aeromexico’s flight had been smooth and without issues. Unfortunately, at 11:52 am, Aeromexico’s McDonnell Douglas collided with a Piper PA-28-181, which was flying from Torrance to Big Bear City, California.

Onboard the Piper was the Kramer family of three members; they all perished following the collision. The Piper aircraft fell to the unoccupied playground at Cerritos Elementary school.

In the meantime, the DC-9 lost its horizontal stabilizer and most of its vertical stabilizer. Immediately, the aircraft entered a dived. The plane plowed into a neighborhood and exploded. Five homes were destroyed, and seven were damaged.

The 64 people onboard Aeromexico’s flight perished, as well as fifteen residents of the Cerritos neighborhood.

Cessna Aircraft AeroMexico Jetliner crash Cerritos CA
A Piper PA-28-181 struck Aeromexico’s flight 498. Photo: Getty Images.

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What did the investigation say about the accident?

Following the accident, the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) launched an investigation. It found that the Piper had entered Los Angeles Terminal Control Area airspace without the required clearance.

The NTSB determined “that the probable cause of the accident was the limitations of the air traffic control system to provide collision protection, through both air traffic control procedures and automated redundancy.”

Additionally, there were two factors contributing to the accident. One was the inadvertent and unauthorized entry of the PA-28 into the LA Terminal Control Area. The other was the limitations of the “see and avoid” concept to ensure traffic separation.

At that time, the Piper didn’t require to have a Mode C transponder, which would have indicated its altitude. Additionally, the Los Angeles airport traffic control system didn’t have automatic warning systems.

The mandatory equipment of TCAS and altitude transponders

Following Aeromexico’s accident, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) required that all jets in US airspace be equipped with a traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS).

The TCAS was the result of an ongoing investigation that started in the mid-fifties, according to the NTSB accident investigation. As outlined by the National Business Aviation Association, the TCAS is an airborne system designed to increase the cockpit awareness of nearby aircraft. It services as the last defense against mid-air collisions.

Nowadays, mid-air collisions are extremely odd accidents. According to the International Air Transport Association 2020 safety report, there had been no mid-air collision worldwide in the last five years. Then, in May 2021, two light planes collided mid-air near Centennial Aiport in Denver. Miraculously, there were no injuries.

Following the accident, the FAA also required light aircraft, like the PA-28, to install Mode C transponders to report their altitude.

Have you heard before about Aeromexico’s Flight 498 accident? What else do you know about it? Let us know in the comments. 

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