Incident Name: an LA County fire
Date: 9/17/1966
Personnel: John Francis “Jack” Hennessy
Age: 47
Agency/Organization: AJ Air Tankers, Inc, 15154 Mulholland Dr, Los Angeles CA; possibly under contract with the LA County Fire Department
Position: aerial firefighter

On September 17, 1966, John Hennessey took off from the Lockheed Air Terminal in North Holywood, CA to fight a LA County fire. An engine on the AJ-1 Savage, which had been retrofitted as an airtanker, flamed out, causing the plane to stall. It crashed as Jack attempted a forced landing. He did not survive. (Note: The AJ-1 Savage was a bomber during WW II and appears to have been experimental as an airtanker.)

North American AJ Savage


Original report said “near the Lockheed Air Terminal, North Holywood, CA”. An eyewitness has provided specific info on the site and on the pilot’s flying ability.

{mosmap lat=’34.217738’|lon=’-118.413773’|marker=’0’|text=’Accident Location’}

Determined by William “Duke” Mathews who as a kid lived almost nextdoor to the crash site. Thanks, Duke!

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • Concise Information from the NTSB, FAA, AAP and research by the WLF Staff:
    • 9/17/1966, 1149 hrs, Tanker 77
    • 1 killed, John Francis “Jack” Hennessy
    • Operator: AJ Air Tankers, Inc, 15154 Mulholland Dr, Los Angeles CA, possibly under contract with LA County
    • Type: North American AJ-1
    • Location: North Holywood, CA
    • FAA Registration # N9143Z
    • NTSB # LAX67A0033
  • National Transportation Safety Board: Probable Cause (html)
  • NTSB brief:NTSB Report
  • For more information if it becomes available consult the NTSB online lookup Utility. Use NTSB Identification: LAX67A0033
  • From Aircraft Wrecks ; search on AJ
  • Another reference relating to the plane’s history (note that the crash date was 1966, not 1967 as stated on this page) ; search on FAA Registration # N9143Z
  • California Death Index: John F Hennessy
  • Two photos of the AJ-1 Tanker 77 by Les Clark.
  • Photo of Tanker 77 from Ed Coates CollectionTanker 77E

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Media Articles and Written Reports and Accounts from those who lived in the community

  • Dave Boucher’s book Ride the Devil Wind, page 187:He states the accident occurred

    “between two buildings at 7943 Coldwater Canyon in North Hollywood, CA. Lacking a seat belt, Jack Hennessey struck his head on the instrument panel and died instantly.”

  • Messages from William “Duke” Mathews on the location and what he knows of the piloting skills of Jack and the crash:
    • message on 9/5/2016:Jack Hennesy was one of the best Borate bomber pilots at the time, he had a reputation in the media as able to nail a Borate drop under impossible odds. He saved the neighborhood, unfortunately by dumping his Borate load before literally stalling out and pancake crashing in a vacant lot just barely bigger than the aircraft between two other houses at Belaire Ave and Strathern St. My neighbor Jimmy Peterson pulled Hennesey out of the aircraft. The houses and cars in the neighborhood were covered in Borate.
    • message on 10/3/2016: Additional bits over several weeks after that; posted with Duke’s permission:I was amazed, even as a kid, that he was able to do this.!!!

      He first hit, apparently tail first about 20 ft from the South edge of the lot that faced West. His tail left a furrow in the ground only about 20 feet long, so he pancaked crashed!!! The length of the fuselage filled up the remainder of the width of the lot, and he just bumped a U shape out of the block wall with the nose of the airplane that bumped it, and not hitting either house! Amazed me!

      Determining the lot is interesting simple. But it might be muddy. I could find it in person.

      The houses on both sides of the crash site were built in the 50’s, the lot where the plane crashed will have a 60’s or 70’s house on it now.

      They might have listed the crash on Coldwater Canyon because the “V” of Coldwater and Belaire Ave at that time was small farmettes, and that may have been their property from Coldwater connected on Belaire Ave.

      The crash was two or three houses South of the “V” of BELAIRE, at Coldwater, on the East side of the street. Thats it exactly!

      I was over at the Peterson’s house when Jimmy Peterson came home all spiffed up (with his hair combed down probably with butchwax) and I heard he had just returned from Fire Station 89, for recieving a Comendation for pulling Jack Hennesy out of the burning aircraft before the fire department arrived.

      If I remember right, the starboard engine had caught fire on the ground, as I could see the top of a smokey engine cowling.

      And a note on his flying ability. I remember the announcer on live TV, narate on several different fires with a thrill in his voice, because when Jack Hennesy lined up a Borate drop, that Fire was OUT!!!!


    • On 10/16/2016:

      I do beleive BINGO! I found the crash site lot for the Savage/Jack Hennessey!

      I looked at the Google Maps of the Northern tip of Bellaire Ave, North of Lorne St, and changed it to Sattellite image and BINGO!

      The second house North, with the dark brown roof, thats it!!! IT HAS NO GARAGE ON THE ALLEY!!

      ALL the other houses on that side of Bellaire Ave, were built in the 50’s, ALL had a garage on the Alley, EXCEPT ONE! Which was the vacant lot where Jack Hennessey pancake crashed the Savage!

      All “we” have to do is get the street address! Im 70 miles away but I might be able to call somebody…

      Garaunteed EUREKA Mellie!


    • 10/19/2016; One more PS:

      8102 BELLAIRE AVE!

      Bellaire Ave is sort of situated on a NorthNorthWest heading, Jack Hennessey got that plane to land on that lot, the short Width of the lot, headed basically NorthWest.

      The Nose of the Savage was pointed at, about in the middle of the front section of house #3 to the North.

      Just a big Grin notch taken out of the block wall between the vacant lot crash site and house #3 by the nose of Hennesey’s AJ-1 Savage Borate Bomber!!!



    • Many thanks to Duke for the first hand accounts! Jack Hennessy was a great pilot, trained up in WWII and Korea, saving lives on the ground in North Holywood through his flying skill.

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

  • Airtanker Pilots: Memorial Wall names John Hennessy as fallen in 1966 while flying an AJ fire bomber
  • Find a Grave Index: John Francis Hennessy, buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, CA

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Contributors to this article:  Rick Messier, William “Duke” Mathews, Mellie

 Please support theAssociated Aerial Firefighters Memorial Trust Fund

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One Comment

  • Robert Forbes says:

    I’d like to add a bit too Duke/RI’s information. I arrived at the scene about 4 hours after the crash and according to some of the witnesses I talked too, Jack actually picked the only open ground in the area, not dropping his load until just before impact. There is another story behind that. The plane was in a pretty level attitude until passing over the second house. Apparently there was a doughboy pool in the back yard and someone was in it. Jack raised the right wing to miss the person and put the left wing into a tree, thus kinda cartwheeling the aircraft..
    There was a swimming pool on the other side of the block wall mentioned above and as I recall most of the cockpit ended up in it. I’ll have to get the pictures out and look again. The only real damage I saw at that time was to an old storage building or garage.
    The crash was caused by a double engine failure.

    No matter what the FAA said, Jack Hennessy was a HERO, doing what he did under the circumstances.

    I first met jack when the tanker base was at Van Nuys in1960 and he got me hooked on flying air tankers. I retired 56 years later from flying Air tankers, and along the way lost a lot of good friends. It was not exactly a forgiving profession.

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