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Nightmare Fades Two Years After Airliner Plunged into Homes

August 30, 1988

CERRITOS, Calif. (AP) _ In the neighborhood where 82 people died two years ago after the collision of a jetliner and a small plane, few signs of the disaster remain.

″I’m surprised what another year has done. I think the neighborhood is fine now,″ said Sue Nelson, who once wanted to erect a plaque inmemory of those who died in the collision between an Aeromexico DC-9 and a light plane.

At dawn Tuesday, homeowners watered carefully cut and edged lawns, cats scrapped in the street, a deliveryman plopped newspapers onto driveways and an occasional runner passed.

″It’s been two years? If you didn’t tell me, I wouldn’t have remembered. I never think about. I don’t even remember that day,″ said Gladys Rubio, 47, as she completed her morning jog where wreckage once burned.

On Aug. 31, 1986, a Piper Archer with three people aboard collided in flight with the Aeromexico DC-9 carrying 64 people. The jetliner plunged into the neighborhood, exploded and killed another 15 people on the ground.

Sixteen houses burned, 10 of them destroyed by flames or falling wreckage. There was nearly $3 million in damage.

The Piper fell in front of a church. The jet fell and exploded, sending bodies and flaming debris raining to the ground as it cut a swath through the tidy suburb 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

Now, there are only hints that tragedy once visited: A weed-infested lot on Holmes Avenue where a house once stood, three 80-foot pines with fire-scorched trunks, several new, oversized homes.

Where the smoldering airliner finally stopped, incinerating a modest $150,000 home, a five-bedroom, three-bathroom Spanish-style house is being sold for $485,000. Average home prices have nearly doubled since the crash.

A new house alongside the Nelsons, whose home was clipped by the jetliner and set ablaze, was rented to a couple for $1,400 a month on the eve of the crash.

″We told people who looked at it that three people died here when the plane crashed,″ said Tom Samuelson, who manages the property. ″We feel that if someone has any apprehension we didn’t want a tenant for a few weeks and have them vacate.″

″Another year is all it took to get back with our lives and forget all about it,″ said Mrs. Nelson, adding she has given up the idea of a neighborhood memorial plaque to honor the dead. ″We are forgetting.″

The memories were rekindled this week, however, by televised coverage of Sunday’s air show crash at a U.S. air base in West Germany.

″The air show in West Germany had a big impact on us. It brought memories back. As a matter of fact, I dreamed a plane crashed last night,″ she said. ″The wounds have healed for the most part. I’m surprised about that.″

But her son Robbie, 9, still won’t get in an airplane.

″We went on another driving trip this year,″ Mrs. Nelson said. ″I just have to get him on a plane so we can really get away.″

The sound of jetliners flying overhead doesn’t seem to bother anyone anymore. ″I don’t even think about it,″ said Mrs. Rubio.

Gone are the sightseers who cruised the neighborhood for a year afterward, averaging six carloads an hour on some weekends.

″For about the first year people came by a lot and it was annoying, but the sightseers don’t show up anymore,″ said Pete Armenta, owner of a local barber shop. ″The customers bring it up once in a while, but everybody’s pretty much gotten over it.″

A year ago, too, local ministers arranged a memorial service to remember the dead. There will be no service this year.

″The local clergy didn’t plan anything this year. They are trying to put it behind them,″ said Michelle Ogle, spokeswoman for the city of Cerritos. ″I would say it is typical of the majority of the community to forget. But I’m sure those people in the neighborhood will never forget.″

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