A skydiving disaster kills 14

taftcrashwebThe Taft skydiving disaster, October 17, 1982. Five years after I shot my first ever news photo there, I would return to my hometown of Taft to shoot the most horrific news story of my career. I was working a very routine Sunday shift in Bakersfield when I was radioed by the on-duty reporter, Cynthia Cheski,  that there had been some kind of plane crash in Taft. We headed out there, figuring at worst it would be a small plane, maybe a Cessna that made an emergency landing, something like that. When we got to the site, in a field outside Taft, we were confronted by a scene of mass carnage and a horrific visual. There were only a handful of emergency vehicles and workers at the scene, there was no perimeter and we were able to drive right up to the site and walk to within several feet of the wreckage. A plane carrying 13 skydivers and the pilot had crashed shortly after takeoff and exploded in a fireball upon hitting the ground. All were dead, mangled inside the wreckage, except for one body that appeared to crawl away from the wreckage before being consumed by the fire and frozen in a hideous, charred death pose. All 14, 12 men and 2 women, were burned beyond recognition. White flags were being placed inside the charred fuselage to pinpoint the location of the dead. The pilot was 65, one diver was 59. Everyone else on the plane was in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Most were from the Los Angeles area, two were from Kern County. The cause of the crash would be an overloaded plane that lost power when the weight shifted inside while the plane was ascending. One thing I remember was some time after we had arrived – we may have been the only media there – hearing a distant “chop, chop, chop” and looking to the sky. Overhead and coming fast were a bunch of helicopters, almost in formation. They would land a few minutes later, and cameramen and reporters would file out. It was the Los Angeles media, and as you would imagine, this would be the biggest story in the country on this day. This photo ran in The Californian. Others were simply too gruesome be printed.

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2 thoughts on “A skydiving disaster kills 14

  1. Dear Mr heart my name I Jennifer Estrada my father passed away in the 1982 plain crash in taft Bakersfield… I was wondering if we could talk … my email is Mckettrickjennifer5@gmail.com I would like it if you could kind of help me with some kind of closer…

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