Plane Crash in Tree Poses Time-Consuming Rescue Problem

Plane Crash in Tree Poses Time-Consuming Rescue Problem


San Francisco Fire Department

Aircraft as it was found hanging from side of eucalyptus treeHydraulic rescue jack in use during effort to extricate victim

AIRCRAFT CRASHES are usually thought of as occurring or eventually ending up at ground level, where the multiple problems they create may then be resolved in the most effective manner. San Francisco firemen recently discovered that such thinking is not always accurate and sometimes an aircraft can fall in such a manner that it is not easy to locate or approach, even in or near a residential area.

Telephoned alarm

About 6:45 on the evening of February 5. Fire Dispatcher Jim McCaulley of San Francisco received a telephone call from a woman who said she “thought” a plane had crashed in the heavily wooded area of Mt. Sutro, directly to the rear of the University of California Hospital in the north-western section of the city. Radio Dispatcher Jim Holmes notified Captain Ray Jensen, acting battalion chief of the fifth battalion, who responded immediately.

When Jensen arrived at the scene, hospital guards met him and led him to a spot where small parts of a plane had been found. Heavy rain had drenched San Francisco for several days and a thick fog settled over the area reducing visibility to a minimum. The captain radioed for a truck company with a portable light unit. Truck 12 was dispatched at 7:12 p.m., and an ambulance and a police unit also responded.

When Chief of Department William F. Murray was notified of the situation, he dispatched Light Wagon 1 to the scene at 7:22 p.m. At the same time, Bruno Bassi, chief of the third division in which the accident occurred, was notified and responded.

Because of the heavily wooded area and the increasing fog, Chief Bassi called for another light unit, and at 8:09 p.m., Light Wagon 2 was dispatched. Meanwhile, the firemen, police and hospital guards were searching the area where the plane parts were found. All available district units of the police department were sent to the scene to control traffic and to aid in the search.

About an hour later, a light Cessnatype plane was sighted, wedged about 25 feet high in a eucalyptus tree about 300 or 400 yards from the nearest roadway. Most of the plane had been sheared off as it crashed; only a crumpled portion of the fuselage remained.

The area was thick with trees and underbrush and was mostly hilly. In some sections, steep slopes made walking extremely difficult, and no vehicles could reach the spot.

It was immediately determined that one person was trapped in the plane and was still alive. Two others were dead. One was hanging head down from the wreckage with the lower part of his body crushed against the tree, while the third was on the ground, the body cut in two.

Chief Bassi ordered ladders brought to the scene. Another truck was called by radio at 8:59 pan., and Truck (i was dispatched. Rescue Squad 2 with burning equipment and power tools was dispatched at 9:18, and two minutes later, Engine 40 was ordered to the scene to provide additional manpower.

A radio engineer of the department of electricity and his assistant responded with 18 pack sets and set up communications at the nearest roadway. Chief Murray immediately established radio contact with the men at the scene.

Ladders, portable light units, forcible entry tools and ropes were carried through the thick underbrush. The ladders were raised on a 40-degree slope and had to be tied to trees and held by men on the ground to prevent their falling.

As three firemen started rescue operations, all that could be seen of the man trapped in the plane was one booted foot. To add to the difficulties, he was still strapped to the seat and his arms were jammed above his head. Working with hydraulic rescue jacks, power tools, hack saws, cutting shears, crowbar and other forcible entry tools, the men toiled inch by inch toward the victim. At times, sections of the plane were cut open, tied with ropes and then pulled back and held by the men on the ground so that laddermen could gain further entrance.

The victim was conscious and speaking throughout all but the last hour of the rescue operation. From time to time, an ambulance steward administered a sedative to ease his suffering. City Coroner Dr. Henry W. Turkel supervised medical treatment.

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Fire fighters employ acetylene cutting torch in late stages of difficult operationChief Bruno Bassi (ladder, lower left) directs rescue effortStretcher is raised to site as long struggle nears conclusion


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After about five hours, it appeared that the victim could be removed, and a basket stretcher was raised up the ladders on ropes to a spot where the injured man could be placed on it and lowered to the ground. It was then discovered that his crushed left foot was still wedged against the tree trunk. Since there was no longer any danger from gasoline fumes, Captain Jim Russell, Rescue Company 2, was ordered to put the acetylene cutting unit to work.

Meanwhile, the trapped man had lapsed into unconsciousness. He was freed at approximately 3:20 a.m. and placed in the basket stretcher. After examination, Doctor Turkel pronounced him dead of internal injuries and a broken back. The body of the other passenger in the plane was finally cut free shortly after 8 a.m.

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