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What had gone wrong? Unless contrary evidence is found, it appears that the pilots in both planes failed to see each other, despite the puzzling PSA report about "traffic in sight." Investigators have not dismissed the possibility that the 727 sighted a plane other than the one it struck, although a second Cessna some twelve miles away at the time should not have confused the PSA pilots. There were other hazards. Both crews were facing a glaring sun. Worse, each craft appeared to have entered a blind spot in the other's field of vision. The 727 crew, with the plane's nose up, had limited vision down toward the Cessna; in the Cessna, the high wing above the cockpit obstructed the view upward and to the rear.
On the ground, chaos spread through a neighborhood of neat small homes and tall palm trees. The bulk of the airliner smashed into houses near Nile and Dwight streets, the more intact remnant of the Cessna about six blocks away. The terrified PSA passengers trapped in the plummeting craft died instantly on impact with the earth. "It was a nonsurvival crash," one investigator said. Indeed, the carnage left in the wake of the fireballing metal fuselage gave mute testimony to that. Scraps of clothing hung from telephone poles. Parts of a briefcase were found here, fragments of computer printout papers there, a pair of shattered glasses elsewhere. At St. Augustine High School, Father Anthony J. Wasko feared that the falling plane would plow into his school and the 575 boys attending it. When the airliner missed, he ordered his students to prepare the gymnasium as a first aid center. It became a temporary morgue instead.
Mary Fuller of Lakeside, Calif, was driving with her infant son when the body of a passenger smashed through the windshield of her car. Police Officer P.L. Thornton rushed up. "The glass just exploded with bits of glass and blood. We thought everyone was dead," he recalled. Lackily, Mrs. Fuller and her baby suffered only minor cuts. Police Sergeant Ken Hargrove told of a headless and legless male torso still strapped to an aircraft seat, with shirt and tie intact. An eIderly woman trembled as she recalled seeing "a man's hand and another part of a body lying on my street."
Police poking through the debris found few pieces of blackened scrap larger than two feet long or wide. An exception was an aircraft sign saying WELCOME. Near by two scorched dogs lay dead on their backs. All the coroner's crews could do was pick up parts of bodies and put them into yellow plastic bags. Said Deputy San Diego County Coroner Warren Chambers: "It may be many days before we will be able to match parts or even determine how many bodies we have."
Firemen fought blazes in the neighborhood for two hours before putting them out. The authorities also had to fight scavengers. Police arrested 28 people, mostly youngsters, for refusing to follow orders to leave the area. Some of them were caught stealing watches and wallets from the fallen bodies.