California · Massacres/Mass Murder

Man kills pilots, crashes plane carrying 43 others in mass killing-suicide

May 7, 1964
Near Danville, California
Francisco “Frank” Gonzales shoots two commercial airplane pilots and himself while in the air, leading to the deaths of all 44 on board

Gonzales (27) was despondent over his substantial debt from a gambling habit, as well as being recently separated from his wife of two years. He took out two airline trip insurance policies on his life, totaling $105,000 and made payable to his wife. While in the airport, Gonzales also reportedly showed a group of his friends a .357 magnum revolver he had purchased the day before and told them he intended to kill himself. He then boarded Pacific Air Lines Flight 773.

Two garbled messages sent from Flight 773 were received by an air traffic controller shortly after takeoff. The controller asked for the message to be repeated but only received silence. Seconds later, the controller lost radar contact with the plane. Reports of thick, black smoke from an “oil or gasoline fire” were reported soon after.

An investigation concluded one of the airplane’s engines had been off at the time of the crash, though it was quickly determined to not have been a malfunction. Investigators concluded one of the pilots likely accidentally pressed on a control on the instrument panel, turning off the engine. Audio analysis of the recordings later revealed what investigators believed to be the captain and co-pilot speaking. The first message, by Captain Ernest A. Clark, was “I’ve been shot. I’ve been shot. Oh my God. Help.” Co-pilot Ray E. Andress’ recording was deciphered as “Skipper’s been shot. I’ve been shot. I was trying to help.”

The .357 used to shoot the pilots was retrieved after the crash and found to have had all six shots fired. The impact of the crash reduced the instrument panel to chunks no larger than 8 inches, and the bodies of the passengers and crew met a similar fate. As such, investigators were unable to determine if Gonzales had shot himself or opted to die by the impact, though flesh found in the wreckage was tested and shown to contain high elevations of lead. Investigators pronounced this flesh as belonging to Gonzales and that he had ended his own life by his revolver while leaving the other 41 passengers (two of whom were children under the age of 4) and crew to perish in the crash.

The insurance companies Gonzales purchased polices through had clauses which invalidated claims of those who died by suicide, leaving Gonzales’ widow unable to receive the $105,000 payout.

Sources:
“U.S. Says Double Murder Caused Crash Killing 44.” The Tampa Tribune. November 3, 1964
“Shooting Ruled ‘Probable’ Cause of Airliner Crash.” The Oakland Tribune. November 2, 1964
“Gun Linked in Airline Crash Puzzle Traced To Plane Passenger.” The Sunday Oklahoman [Oklahoma City, Oklahoma]. May 10, 1964
“Plane Disaster Pistol Linked to S. F. Man.” Oakland Tribune. May 10, 1964
“The Air Crash Casualty List.” San Francisco Examiner. May 8, 1964

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