Cerritos Air Disaster 30 Years Later

"All of a sudden, the whole kitchen went dark."

It was just a regular day in Cerritos when disaster struck the quiet community. Thirty years later, the Cerritos Air Disaster continues to impact lives -- for people, and passengers.

NBC4's Hetty Chang was coming from the mall when she and her family saw the huge plume of smoke coming from their neighborhood.

At exactly 11:56 a.m. on Wednesday, there a moment of silence for the very moment when disaster struck above Cerritos 30 years ago.

Midair, a Piper plane collided with an Aeromexico DC-9 jet, crashing into the neighborhood near 183rd Street and Carmenita Road.

In an instant, 82 lives were lost including 15 people on the ground. Gail Grossman would never see her neighbors again.

"I was sitting at my kitchen table at my house," Grossman said. "All of a sudden, the whole kitchen went dark."

Outside her home, it looked like a war zone.


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For weeks, crews sifted through the rubble. The death toll rose.

The tragedy led to some of the most significant safety improvements in aviation. All planes now have a traffic collision avoidance system that identifies potential midair crashes and instructs pilots on how to avoid them.

The day holds a different significance for those who lost loved ones.

"I can't seem to find closure ... It's been thirty years," Mariamagdalena Ceniceros said. "It's like it's only been a year ago."

For Grossman, she thinks about it any time she is near a plane. 

"We get on a plane to go anywhere and we hold each other's hands," Grossman said. "[It] wasn't our day -- thank goodness. It's tough really tough."

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