Coalinga plane crash at Los Gatos Canyon: 75th anniversary commemoration

Coalinga, CA: The Coalinga Oil Field is the eighth largest oil field in California. It surrounds the town of Coalinga in the Central Valley between Los Angeles and San Francisco, to the west of Interstate 5, at the foot of the Diablo Range.

By Kris Paul, Ivanhoe Sol

On Saturday, January 28, the R.C. Baker Museum in Coalinga hosted a commemoration for the 75th anniversary of the Los Gatos plane crash where 28 Mexican nationals on board were all killed – along with three others – in 1948.

There were over 80 attendees at the museum to see Tulare County native and author of “All They Will Call You”, Tim Z. Hernandez and musician Ana Saldana who performed her beautiful rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos).” 

Hernandez shared that Mexican nationals were initially nameless, leading to the Woody Guthrie song, which led to the search for the families of the victims, who were buried in a mass grave in Fresno’s Holy Cross Cemetery with no individual names placed on the marker. That song was around for nearly 60 years until Hernandez, the son of migrant farm workers born and raised here in the San Joaquin Valley decided ‘I want to answer the question; Who are these people?’”

Oakland, Ca. January 28th, 1948

On the morning of January 28th, the Immigration and Naturalization Service loaded 28 Mexican Nationals, who were in the United States under the Braceros Program, onto a Douglas DC-3 to be flown for repatriation to Mexico.

They were approximately 90 minutes into the flight when a fire in the left wing engine was discovered. The plane was maneuvered inland towards the nearby Coalinga Airport but crashed into Los Gatos Canyon.

Coalinga, Ca. January 28th, 2023

Hernandez described how wandering around the community of Coalinga, asking questions, got him very little information in return, so he turned to a journalist friend, Juan Esparza, who worked at the bilingual newspaper Vida El Valle. 

The article describing his quest was repeatedly printed but yielded nothing. Later, Hernandez received an email from Jaime Ramirez, the grandson and nephew of two of the passengers on that plane. He was located in Fresno and offered to tell him anything he wanted to know. After sharing stories, Mr. Ramirez offered a copy of a list of the passengers from an article from an independent Spanish newspaper called, El Faro from 1948 published in the Fresno County area.

When asked by Mr. Hernandez, “What would make you think to keep that newspaper for so long?” Mr. Ramirez replied, “I’ve been waiting for you.”

The publication of his narrative “All They Will Call You” in 2017 raised awareness, but before that in 2013 efforts were made to finally place a marker at the gravesite with the names of all the remains of all the passengers buried in Fresno’s Holy Cross Cemetery. 

After several years passed, Hernandez, having exhausted all the leads and sources in the Central Valley, would set off for several sites in Mexico in search of the descendants of the victims on board the plane. With the help of many of the local people, they were able to find some of the descendants, as well as a fiancé of one of the passengers. 

Tim Z. Hernandez was able to excavate several personal stories about the passengers but in the end, 13 years later, he has been able to locate the families of only 13 passengers, and is still searching for more. The quest to not only accurately name all of the passengers, but to tell their stories, of what they did, where they were from, why they were there when they were, but especially and specifically who they were continues.

List of all the passengers on board

Miguel Alvarez Negrete

Francisco Duran Llamas

Santiago Elizondo Garcia

Rosalio Estrada Padilla

Bernabe Garcia Lopez

Tomas Garcia de Avila

Salvador Hernandez Sandoval

Severo Lara Medina

Jose Macias Rodriguez

Elias Macias Trujillo

Tomas Marquez Padilla

Luis Medina Lopez

Manuel Merino Calderon

Luis Miranda Cuevas

Ignacio Navarro Perez

Marin Navarro razo

Ramon Ochoa Ochoa

Ramon Praedes Gonzalez

Apolonio Placencia Ramirez

Guadalupe Ramirez Lara

Alberto Carlos Raygoza

Guadalupe Rodriguez Hernandez

Maria Rodriguez Santana

Wenceslao Ruiz Flores

Juan Ruiz Valenzuela

Jose Sanchez Valdivia

Jesus Santos Meza

Baldomero Marcos Torres

Frank Atkinson

Bobbi Lillian Atkinson

Marion Ewing

Frank Chapin

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