In the civic center of the relatively quiet Los Angeles suburb of Cerritos, a garden blooms. It’s not completely finished–it’s designed to house at least 20 sculptures, and as of this writing, it only has only 5. But the first sculpture that was placed is the one that holds the most reverence–the Cerritos Air Disaster Memorial.
On August 31, 1986, just a few blocks from where the tranquil memorial nows stands, there was mass chaos. In a catastrophic accident, Aeroméxico Flight 498 (a McDonnall-Douglas D-9) and a private Piper PA-28-181 Archer flown by William Kramer collided over a suburban neighborhood, both plummeting to the ground. 11 homes were leveled, seven more were damaged. No one in either aircraft survived.
82 lives were lost in the disaster, including many couples or groups of family members–67 passengers and 15 on the ground.
The crash prompted several new safety regulations and just as many (if not more) lawsuits. This collision, along with a few near misses, prompted the installation of Traffic Collision Avoidance Systems in all commercial aircraft, and a Mode C transponder requirement for all light aircraft operating in densely populated air spaces. William Kramer, who was decapitated along with both of his passengers in the collision, was ruled as sharing equal fault with the FAA for the tragedy, his estate along with the Federal Aviation Administration paid out millions.
The sculpture garden’s feature attraction was created by artist Kathleen Caricof, and was meant as an offering of comfort and reflection from the people of Cerritos to those who lost loved ones in the disaster. It’s comprised of three pieces, two wing-shaped sections of granite and marble representing the doomed flights. The wing symbolizing the Piper is smaller, and darker in color. A marble bench curves toward the wings, where you can read the names of the victims, in alphabetical order, highlighting the great loss to several families.
The garden is still commissioning more artwork to be dispersed throughout the lush landscape, and have already included a replica of the Statue of Freedom and a reflection pool with statues of female embodiments of the four elements. The garden is free to visit, and always changing and evolving.
Know Before You Go
Parking is shared with the Cerritos Library and the nearby Sheriff Station.