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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

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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.

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 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 Collection

    Tanker 77E Tanker 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


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