Fighter Jet Crash in Glendale

Here’s a long forgotten event that happened just outside of the Crescenta Valley, actually in north Glendale, in July 1957. It involved a fighter jet crashing in a residential neighborhood – fortunately and amazingly with no fatalities.

The fighter jet involved was the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk, a single engine, single-seat light attack aircraft. Fortunately for this incident it was a very small plane. It had a delta configured wing with a wingspan of only 26 feet – so small it didn’t need folding wings for aircraft carrier use. The plane was developed in the early 1950s for the Navy and Marine Corps and by 1956 the Douglas Aircraft Company was delivering operational jets. It was the primary attack aircraft used by the Navy in the Vietnam Conflict.

In July 1957 Navy Commander Paul Durap was taking delivery of a new A-4 Skyhawk from the Douglas plant in El Segundo. In the late afternoon he took off for an acceptance flight and headed out over the ocean. He was flying at 25,000 feet when the plane began having engine trouble. Heading back and losing altitude, he ended up over Glendale. He radioed his position to the airfield and reported that he was bailing out. At a mere 2,000 feet he finally ejected, probably hoping the plane would hit the Verdugo Mountains just in front of him. (Looking at the map one can see that the crash site was just a couple of blocks from what was then bare hillsides.)

Instead the plane dropped down quickly and hit perhaps the only vacant lot in a heavily populated residential area of North Glendale. The vacant lot was behind 301 Parkwood Drive. (Parkwood Drive is below Kenneth Drive, just west of Central.) The vacant lot was heavily treed with oak, avocado and walnut. The pilotless jet plowed an 80-foot furrow in the ground, but was slowed by three oak trees in its path. Nonetheless parts of the plane scattered onto the houses and flames from burning jet fuel shot up 200 feet in the air.

It was a quiet Tuesday evening and Mrs. Dudley of 301 Parkwood Dr. happened to be standing in her yard just a few feet from the crash. Miraculously, parts of the plane landed on both sides of her but left her untouched. But the impact, noise and heat from the flames left her stunned. Inside her house, her sister was missed by inches when a piece of the wreck shot through her bedroom window.

Next door at 303 Parkwood Dr., a man was sitting in his den when his house shook and the window next to him shattered inward from being hit by airplane debris. The flames from the crash set two garages on fire but responding fire crews got the flames out right away.

The pilot came down hard and fast in his parachute, landing on a ridgeline of the Verdugo Mountains. When he hit the ground he tumbled several hundred feet down a brushy, rocky hillside. By the time he came to rest he had broken his shoulder and fractured his ribs, legs and back. It took Glendale firemen and volunteers an hour to reach him. They carried him out on a rescue litter, bloodied and semiconscious. He was heard muttering “Oh, dear God.”

Hundreds of Glendale residents heard the crash and saw the flames shooting up, yet no one was injured. It was absolutely amazing that a fighter jet could crash in a densely populated area of Glendale without hitting anything on the ground.

One witness to the fiery crash commented, “I don’t think the plane could have fallen into a better place in the entire city, even if the pilot had stayed with it and aimed it as it crashed.”

Mike Lawler is the former president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley
and loves local history.
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