Los Gatos Canyon Air Disaster






Carlos RasconThis tragic story started back on January 28, 1948. Sixty-five years ago a DC-3 twin engine air plane charted by the U.S. immigration department left from the Oakland airport shortly after 9: 00 a.m. heading south towards El Centro California with 32 people on board. About an hour into their flight, disaster struck when the left engine caught on fire, followed by an explosion that caused the left wing to separate from the fuselage. Eyewitnesses stated seeing several persons either jumping or falling from the plane as it spiraled out of control and crashed into the ground.

The crash-site is located near a creek known as Los Gatos Canyon, 20 miles west of Coalinga California. There were 32 people on board but the names of only four were ever recorded for history to remember. The newspaper articles gave the names of the pilot, co-pilot, stewardess and immigration guard; however the names of the passengers were not disclosed, the newspaper reports simply stated them as “Deportees”

The 28 immigrant farm workers were returning to Mexico after fulfilling their work contracts under the Bracero Program. The Bracero Program was a series of laws initiated by the US Congress allowing Mexican laborers to work in the U.S. during labor shortages caused by the U.S. involvement in WW2. Bracero stands for “strong arm worker’ in Spanish.

Three thousand miles away in New York, a man who had himself been forced to leave his family to look for work took notice. Musician and Oklahoma native Woody Guthrie read the article in the New York Times. He was outraged by the callous indifference of the story which couldn’t bother to mention the names of the workers who died in the crash. In protest of the offensive omission he wrote a poem, Plane Crash at Los Gatos also known as “deportee” a ballad in which he assigned symbolic names to the dead. “Good-bye to my Juan, goodbye Rosalita, Adios mis amigos Jesus y Maria, You won’t have your name when you fly the big airplane, all they will call you will be deportees”.

The 28 victims were buried in mass grave at Holy Cross Cemetery in Fresno California on January 31, 1948. A small 1’ x 2’ bronze marker marks the grave with a simple inscription. 28 Mexican Citizens who died in an airplane crash accident near Coalinga Ca on Jan 28, 1948 R.I.P the marker and grave plots where donated by the Catholic Church.

The poem Woody wrote became a song, thanks to a school teacher named Martin Hoffman. This haunting poem now had the power of music to reach and capture future generations thru the voices of so many recording artist in the Country and Folk music industry. You may know or have heard of many of them; Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, Joan Baez, John McCutheon, Arlo Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Dolly Parton, Peter Paul and Mary, Bruce Springsteen, The Byrd’s and so on.

Now fast forward to 2012, the first time I heard of this story happened while walking the grounds at the cemetery and I came across the small bronze marker. Our field supervisor David Solis gave me his version of the tragic accident which intrigued me so from there I knew this was unfinished work that I could not ignore. Later on that same week I was approached by a local author writing a book on the story, he wanted to look at our death register. To my surprise, we didn’t have the names of these victims, just a list that had the numbers 1 thru 28 and the words Mexican National next to them. This became a personal quest to find the names of these victims. The Funeral home who donated their services in 1948 didn’t have the names. Immigration department was out of the question so I called Fresno County Records and after a few weeks I received the names of all 28 of these unknown friends. Upon receiving names, I wanted to validate them with the Parish that conducted the actual Funeral Mass so I called Reverend Salvador Gonzalez, Pastor at Saint John’s Cathedral. The ladies in the office shared the 1948 register and sure enough the names matched 100%.

Then the next step became very obvious. The names needed to be inscribed on a memorial to place over this Mass grave. In conjunction with the author/writer Tim Hernandez, the Woody Guthrie Foundation, Cesar Chavez Foundation and local contractors, we’ve been steadily receiving donations from many wonderful people throughout the U.S. towards making the memorial a reality. The Diocese of Fresno invites you and your family to attend this wonderful historic event as we honor the 32 victims of this tragic accident.

- Carlos Rascon


Memorial Invite


Dear Friends,

We have secured rooms at a discounted rate at:

Piccadilly Inn logoPICCADILLY INN SHAW
2305 W. Shaw Avenue
Fresno, CA 93706
Phone # 559-348-5520
Fax # 559-230-1809

Reserved under: Holy Cross Memorial
Rate: $75.00 per day
(Room rates apply from Sunday September 1st thru Monday September 2nd, 2013)
To book your reservation call 559-348-5520,
or online at https://bookings.ihotelier.com/bookings.jsp?groupID=1061896&hotelID=77356   
group attendee code is 10000506770

Deadline for Reservations is August 19, 2013! Room availability is not guaranteed after this date.



Dedication Date Confirmed
"It was confirmed today that the Mass and dedication of the Holy Cross memorial is scheduled for
September 2nd 2013 at 10:00 a.m.
This date is Labor Day Monday which is a Holiday for us but a significant date for the laborers that we will honor."

- Carlos Rascon


Los Gatos Canyon story appears in the Los Angeles Times

LA Times Story

Click here to read: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-deportees-guthrie-20130710-dto,0,2642231.htmlstory#tugs_story_display


Names of the 28 Mexican Citizens

  1. Miguel Negrete Alvarez
  2. Francisco Llamas Durán
  3. Santiago Garcia Elizondo
  4. Rosalio Padilla Estrada
  5. Tomás Aviña de Gracia
  6. Bernabé López Garcia
  7. Salvador Sandoval Hernández
  8. Severo Medina Lara
  9. Elias Trujillo Macias
  10. José Rodriguez Macias
  11. Tomás Padilla Márquez
  12. Luis López Medina
  13. Manuel Calderón Merino
  14. Luis Cuevas Miranda
  15. Martin Razo Navarro
  16. Ignacio Pérez Navarro
  17. Román Ochoa Ochoa
  18. Ramón Ramirez Paredes
  19. Apolonio Ramirez Placencia
  20. Guadalupe Lara Ramirez
  21. Alberto Carlos Raygoza
  22. Guadalupe Hernández Rodriguez
  23. Maria Santana Rodriguez
  24. Juan Valenzuela Ruiz
  25. Wenceslao Flores Ruiz
  26. José Valdivia Sánchez
  27. Jesús Meza Santos
  28. Baldomero Marcas Torres

Members of the crew:
Francis "Frank" Atkinson, Long Beach, Pilot
Marion Harlow Ewing, Balboa, Co-Pilot
Lillian "Bobbie" Atkinson, Long Beach, Stewardess
Frank E. Chaffin, Berkeley, Immigration Guard

I thought that perhaps it would be helpful to include their middle names to help surviving families identify if any of the 28 victims are their relatives.  

Carlos R.


The Significance of Names

It was 2010, when I first came across the headlines “100 See Ship Plunge,” while researching another book I was working on at the time. I read the article and quickly found myself jotting notes down for another book idea that would surely come later. By early 2011, I was neck-deep in the research around the plane crash. Initially, my creative impulse was to re-write the stories of the 28 “Deportees,” to capture their lives, or re-envision them at least, through fiction. On the internet, I found a list claiming to be the names of the passengers on that flight. Some of the names seemed off mark, but still, entirely possible. I approached the Holy Cross Cemetery in early 2011 asking if they could confirm the names I had found with their records, since they are the cemetery where the remains of those passengers are buried. After a few attempts, cemetery Director, Carlos Rascon, was successful in locating records, and this is how the names were finally confirmed. Together we pondered the possibility of erecting a new headstone listing the names of the passengers, rather than leaving the headstone as it is currently: “Buried Here are 28 Mexicans Who Died in a…”

Over the last two years of research, it seems the question that comes up most frequently is how this discovery shines a light on the current immigration debate. I’m not sure if it does or does not, however, it certainly shines a light on the significance of human dignity. Of course, there is the undeniable timeliness to this. To think that these names have been logged away in the annals of American history for 65 years—in arms reach of anyone who just scratched the surface, but that no one has until now, is an incredible thought. I’ve asked myself this often, why now, why today, have these names emerged? Certainly, countless scholars have written about this specific Woody Guthrie song, any of who could’ve dug these names up at some point in the last six decades. Indeed, why now?

In line with Bishop Ochoa’s sentiments, “In heaven we don’t have national boundaries,” I agree, and feel this reclamation is more a matter of human dignity. An element that reaches far beyond our human-imposed delineations and ideas, to a place of the sacred. It’s for this reason that my book will not only be about the 28 unnamed “Deportees” who died on January 28, 1948, but it will also be about the four officials on board too. And the dozens of eyewitnesses who saw it unfold. As well as Guthrie and the schoolteacher named Martin Hoffman, who is the one who actually wrote the melody to that song. It’s about all of these lives coming together at an intersection, albeit a tragic one. I believe that only when we can look at the whole picture, we can see clearly that human dignity transcends colors, social class, and lines in the dirt. For now, the discovery of these 28 names may appear only symbolic in regards to current immigration debates, but is in times like these that we often find ourselves looking to our collective past for answers.

And if there is one thing that time has proven, it’s that when a moment or incident like this plane crash gets immortalized via the arts: music, literature, theater, etc…it suddenly finds new meaning with a new audience years, decades, centuries down the road. And then we begin to ask ourselves questions as a whole. What might we learn from our past failures and triumphs. What mistakes do we find ourselves repeating? And, is there a better way?

In the end, if one is seeking for some significance to the discovery of these 28 names or the memorial, my hope is that it is focused on this single thread we call humanity. Without our names, what are we? Who are we? Our names are really the shining medallion of our dignity, our birthright. This is what the great American folk musician Woody Guthrie had in mind when he penned his song, “Plane Wreck at Los Gatos.” This is what the schoolteacher Martin Hoffman had in mind when he composed the beautiful melody for it. In the same way, it’s my hope that my book will take their efforts one step further, by not only broadcasting the true names of all 28 passengers, but by putting the scattered pieces of their lives back together so that now, 65 years later, the intact dignity of those souls who perished can be restored.

Tim Z. Hernandez



Benefit Concert Update

“The benefit concert was a great success! You helped raise $ 3,400.00 dollars towards the Memorial project. I’m so grateful to everyone who prepared the concert, the performers, artists and all of you present that night. Thank you for your support.”
- Carlos Rascon

Benefit Concert
"Hello Dear Friends, I'm sending you this flyer for the benefit concert
we are having in Fresno on April 18...in effort to raise the
money needed to make the new headstone listing all 28 names
a reality. Lance and I will be performing together as well,
and I'll be reading some of the work from my book-in-progress."

- Tim Z. Hernandez

Fulton 55 Box Office
875 Divisadero St., Fresno, CA 93721
Tickets- 1-877-987-6487


Benefit Concert




Click here or on the graphic to read or listen in on a recent interview with Carlos Rascon and Tim Hernandez.


Fresno Diocese logo

Press release:

January 28, 2013, marks an important historical anniversary. Sixty-five years ago a chartered immigration plane crashed and burned in Los Gatos Canyon near Coalinga, California. Twenty-eight migrant farm workers, three crew members and one immigration guard all perished in what was called the worst airline disaster in the history of the Central California Valley.The twenty-eight migrant passengers were laid to rest in a mass grave at Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery on Belmont Avenue in Fresno, California. A bronze marker identifies the burial site. However, for unknown reason, lacks the names of the deceased as one would normally find inscribed on cemetery markers.As written by musician Woody Guthrie, the names of these migrant passengers were not disclosed to the public in any of the newspapers at that time, which prompted him to write a song called “Deportee” in protest of the offensive omission.Sixty-five years later, the song he wrote is again raising interest from musical artists familiar with Woody’s song, “Deportee.” Intrigued audiences that have heard the story over the years, along with other visitors who are familiar with the event, occasionally come to Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery to visit the gravesite.Under the Direction of the Diocese of Fresno and the Woody Guthrie Foundation, efforts are underway to raise enough funds to purchase a large memorial honoring the thirty-two victims of the crash and finally engraving the names of the twenty-eight citizens of Mexico that never returned home. When the memorial is completed a dedication ceremony will be scheduled and the public notified.

For More Information Contact:
Carlos Rascon, Director
Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery
(559) 488-7449


Donations and Contributions
The Woody Guthrie Foundation
Cesar Chavez Foundation
John McCutcheon - Smoke Rise, GA
Diane Vigeant -Colorado Springs, CO
(in memory of Jerry Davitch & Martin Hoffman)
Ilan Stavans - Amherst, MA
Lance Canales & the Flood - Fresno, CA
Jemmy Bluestein
Tim Z Hernandez - Boulder, CO
Conjunto Califas - Visalia, Ca
Bruce Roberts – Fremont, CA
Kathleen Riley – Newington, CT
Bell Memorials - Clovis, CA
Rascon Family - Bakersfield, CA
Farrell Family – Indianapolis, IN
Karasik-McCullough - Kensington, MD
Roth Crane - Fresno, CA
St. Francis of Assisi Parish – Bakersfield, CA
Shubin Family- Fresno, CA
Berry Construction – Madera, CA
Ronald Scudder - Livermore, CA
Joseph Offer - Applegate, CA
Barbara Davis - Wichita, KS
Judith Major - Mars Hill, NC
Jacqueline Dwyer - Henrico, VA
Carol Giles-Straight - St. Louis, MO
Robert Hansmann - New York, NY
Camille Taiara - Oakland, CA
Janigian Family - Los Angeles, CA
Armstrong-Hagen - Tehachapi, CA
Ross Family - Lemon Cove, CA
Shelly Catterson - Evergreen, CO
Christopher Rosales - Denver, CO
Michael Fuller - Turlock, CA
Michael Sands - Portland, OR
Consuelo Romo - Visalia, CA
William Spence - Carbondale, OR
Susan Edelstein - Carbondale, OR
Richard Stone - Fresno, CA
Billey Adams - Fresno, CA
Holly Hisamoto - El Monte, CA
Jonathan Segal - Menlo Park, CA
Daniel Sullivan - Walnut Creek, CA
Beverly Nolan - Palm Desert, CA
Berenice Guzman - Selma, CA
Jane Carter - Fresno, CA
Lucia Vazquez - Visalia, CA
Sue & Hansel Kern - North Fork, CA
Samuel & Maria Mercado - Bakersfield, CA
Gail Newel - Fresno, CA
Matthew Watson - Fresno, CA
Fulton 55
Alene Campbell - Boulder, CO
Clare Anzoleaga - Fresno, CA
Rebecca Balcarcel - Bedford, TX
Lora Fike - Boulder, CO
Janet Webb - Carmichael, CA
Anna Dresner - Pittsburg, KS
Emily Schmidlin - Kent, OH
Richard Tellier - Clovis, CA
Merry Maisel - San Diego, CA
Henrique Reade - Fowler, Ca
Mollie Weinert - Reston, VA
K.A. Elias & S. Shena - Three Rivers, CA
Corrine Hales - Fresno, CA
Ester Hernandez - San Francisco, CA
Hallowell Family - Friant, CA
Holly Near - Ukiah, CA
Charlie King - Shelburne Falls, MA
Ole Frijole Restaurant - Fresno, CA
Donna Odierna - Oakland, CA
Douglas-Larsson - Boulder, CO
Marshall Family - Visalia, CA
Melanie Cervantes - Oakland, CA
Jesus Barraza - Oakland, CA
Malaquias Montoya - Sacramento, CA
Jaime Montiel - Sacramento, CA
Maceo Montoya - Woodland, CA
Carlos Francisco Jackson - Sacramento, CA
Abelino Bautista - Fresno, CA
Sylvia Savala -Fresno, CA
John Sierra - Fresno, CA
Shannon Johnson - Fresno, CA
Luis Bravo - Fresno, CA
Diego Monterrubio - Lindsey, CA
Janet Flores - Fresno, CA
Catherine Campbell & Thomas Quinn - Fresno, CA
Laurie A. Macallister - Jersey City, NJ
Manuel & Carmen Rosalez Zubiri - Clovis, CA
Richard Berquist - Fresno, CA
Cathy A. Fink - Kensington, MD
James & Marie Lambe - Fresno, CA
Marty Bocanegra - Corcoran, CA
Donna R. Elliott - Avenal, CA
Wayne & Deborah Petinak - Dinuba, CA
Helen & Paul Casares - Fresno, CA
Mary Jo Vernava- Clovis, CA
Grace Vernava - Clovis, CA
L. Liddle - Fresno, CA
Pamela & Paul Schramm - Fresno, CA
Hope Barnes - Fresno, CA
Vernon L. Tevriz - Fresno, CA
Louis Trivisonno – Cleveland, OH
Richard Wheaton & Margaret Rivers - N. Fork, CA
Gina Marie Cheeseman - Fresno, CA
Lena Meacci - Fresno, CA
Marino Meacci - Fresno, CA
Frank & Delores Diaz – Fresno, CA
Oregon Memorials – Hillsboro, OR
Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery - Colma CA
Segel & Sapadin Family - Brooklyn NY
Danforth Family - Grafton VT
Kathleen L. Early - Eavnston IL
Nancy S. Erickson - Brooklyn NY
Jane A. McCaleb - Brooklyn NY
Glenda Garrick - Brooklyn NY
Elise Witt - Pine Lake GA
Bruce Fife - Portland OR
Cerniglia & Healy Family - Pine Bush NY
Allan Hirsch - Seattle WA
Charles L Bernhardt - Laurel MD
Clark B. Halker - Chicago IL
Gerich Family - Shrewsbury MA
F Dennis Lynch - Portland OR
Kenneth P. Giles - Washinton DC
Michelle Shocked - Los Angeles CA
Carrol K. Allen - Princelon NJ
Carol E. Gay - Brick NJ
Hedian-Woo Family - Baltimore MD
Jaroszynski-Hale Family - San Rafael CA
Bennet E. Tousley - Wakefield MA
Linda M. Hamilton - Fresno CA
Aileen Vance - Santa Cruz Ca
Rani Arbo - Middletown CT
Chuck Brodsky - Ashville NC
James Durst - White Plans NY
R. Howard Wooden - St Albans VT
Local 1000 AFM Musicians Union - New York NY
Kaplan - Lyman Family - Seattle WA
Ted Warmbrand - Tucson AZ
Milt and Stefani Rosenberg - Los Angeles CA
Albert Family - East Coast US
Bezayiff Family - Sabillasville MD
Kosch Family - Palmdale CA
Beverly K. Grant - East Coast US
Oregon Memorials – Hillsboro, OR



Fresno Bee Article 6/4/13

Fresno Bee article

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno is trying to right a wrong for 28 Mexican citizens who died in a plane crash 65 years ago near Coalinga.

The group of migrant farmworkers -- employed in a program that allowed Mexican citizens to enter the United States to perform seasonal work and then return to Mexico -- never made it home. The chartered immigration plane they boarded out of Oakland for their return trip to Mexico lost its left wing and fell from the sky. Everyone aboard -- the farmworkers, three crew members and an immigration guard -- died.

The crew members and guard were buried at various cemeteries. The farmworkers were buried in a mass grave at Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery in Fresno -- with a bronze grave marker bearing the words "airplane accident" and no names.

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2013/06/03/3326195/roman-catholic-diocese-of-fresno.html#storylink=cpy


 Original News Story on the Los Gatos Canyon Air Disaster.

The Register news story




Link to the ABC Channel 30 Story


abc30 screenshot




Here is a 3 part series from Univision:

Univision segment 1

Este es el link de la primera parte


Univision Segment 2

Esta es la segunda parte


Univision Segment 3

Esta es la tercera parte

Vanessa Ramírez  |  Reporter  |  News Reporter  |  Univision 21  |  601 West Univision Plaza, Fresno, CA 93704
Direct: (559) 430-8489  |  Fax: (559) 430-8672  |  varamirez@univision.net  |  http://www.univision.net