A Devastating Plane Crash in Tassajara Valley
May 7, 1964
Forty-four people were killed when a Pacific Air Line flight from Reno to San Francisco crashed in the Tassajara Valley east of Danville, off Tassajara Road. One of the passengers, Francisco Gonzales, purchased a .357 Smith and Wesson Magnum revolver on May 6 and told friends that he intended to shoot himself. He was evidently distraught over marital and financial problems. The recorded pilot's message said "Skippers shot. We've been shot...".
Mel Whalin's small funeral home on Front Street, the San Ramon Valley Chapel, took charge of the remains. Refrigerator cars were placed in the Village Theater parking lot next to the Chapel, all victims were identified and, after deciding against a mass cremation, caskets (paid for by Pacific Air) delivered them to relatives. Whalin worked 50 hours straight, assisted by Frank Scott and several other deputy coroners. One story said the bodies were stored for a time in the Theater -- with ghosts rumored to be seen there for years.
The crash was remembered by Valley residents very clearly. Gorden Rasmussen was living on Tassajara Road at the time, not far from the crash. He was probably the first one there and, even 50 years later, he didn’t want to talk about it.
Bill Ketsdever in the weekly Valley Pioneer (May 20, 1964) wrote "A Morning Of Horror" which reported on the grisly scene: "red streaks in the grass" and "bits and pieces of torsos...humans who less than two hours before were capable of breathing, talking, laughing." He admitted at the article's conclusion on that, had he known what was there on the hillside, he would not have gone.
After this crash, airlines were required to lock the door to the cockpit. For many it was hard to believe that a passenger could walk through that door so easily.