Woody Guthrie

Rebecca Plevin / Valley Public Radio

In 1948, a plane chartered by the U.S. Immigration Service crashed in Los Gatos Canyon, near Coalinga. Everyone on board died. Immediate news reports named the flight crew and an immigration officer, but referred to the passengers as “28 Mexican deportees.” The crash was immortalized by folk singer Woody Guthrie, who wrote a poem about the tragedy, and assigned symbolic names to the Mexican nationals. On Monday morning, those passengers were formally named and recognized.

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Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We want to turn, now, to a current effort to address a decades-old tragedy. In 1948, a U.S. Immigration Service plane carrying undocumented immigrants from California to Mexico, crashed. All 32 people onboard were killed. But while news accounts listed the names of the four people in the flight crew, the 28 undocumented victims were just listed as Mexican deportees.

This week on Valley Edition we look into an airplane disaster that took place in the hills near Coalinga 65 years ago. The accident grabbed national headlines and even inspired a song by Woody Guthrie titled 'Deportee.' Valley Public Radio reporter Rebecca Plevin explores the tragedy with the help of local author Tim Z. Hernandez and his quest to ensure that those who died in the crash are not forgotten. Hernandez, along with the Fresno Diocese and Holy Cross Cemetery are working together to erect a memorial headstone with the full names of all 28 passengers. 

Rebecca Plevin / Valley Public Radio

Author Tim Z. Hernandez was digging through old newspapers at the Fresno County library when a dramatic headline from the late 1940s captured his attention.

“I stumbled upon this headline that said, ‘100 people see a ship plunge to the earth’ or something like that. It was just really a captivating headline. I instantly realized after reading it that it had to be tied into Woody Guthrie’s song, says Hernandez.