Alaska Flight 261 Memorial Port Hueneme California

Yesterday when I wrote about Holiday Inn Express Port Hueneme, I had not yet been outside the hotel in daylight to check out the surroundings. The hotel website shows 48 photos and I started clicking through them. Photo #2 states “Universal Studios near Holiday Inn Express Port Hueneme”. Google Maps shows Universal Studios Hollywood is 55 miles away and if you know San Fernando Valley traffic, that can mean 2 hours. I certainly was not going to sightsee there in the hour before breakfast.

HIX Port Hueneme photo

Clicking through the hotel website photos showed several destinations about an hour’s drive away, like the Ronald Reagan library, Los Angeles and Malibu. Pacific Coast Highway is closed by a mudslide north of Malibu, so that was not even an option.

Alaska Flight 261 Memorial Port Hueneme Beach

Photo #12 brought back memories of TV coverage that had been overshadowed by other subsequent disasters and tragedies in the past 15 years.

HIX Port Hueneme Alaska Flight 261

With camera in hand I got in my car, typed on iPhone Maps “Alaska Airlines Memorial Port Hueneme” and got the message back “location not found”. After a couple of more tries, I changed my search to Port Hueneme Beach. The map on my iPhone showed me the beach was two blocks from the Holiday Inn Express and only an 8 minute walk. I got out of my car and started walking. I was at the beach in five minutes.

Port Hueneme Beach-1

Channel Islands National Park is located off the coast of California with boat access from Oxnard and Ventura, the two cities a few miles north of Port Hueneme on the coast. The National Park is only accessible via the park concessionaire boats operated by out of Ventura Harbor or Oxnard Harbor, California.

Google Maps Channel Islands National Park

I had read the Port Hueneme pier was closed. Three guys in a truck were working at the pier and I asked them where the Alaska Memorial was located. They pointed south of the pier.

Surf was up on a gorgeous and warm clear sky day in late December. The temperature was already in the upper 60s at 8am. Waves crashed beneath Port Hueneme Pier.

Port Hueneme pier

Port Hueneme Pier was fenced off about 100 feet along the 1,400 foot pier extending into the Pacific Ocean. The pier is scheduled to reopen to the public sometime in the next month or two.

Port Hueneme Pier-2

Paved paths along Hueneme beach under the shade of palm trees led me to the Alaska Flight 261 Memorial.

Alaska Flight 261 Memorial-1

Alaska Airlines Flight 261 crashed into the sea near Anacapa Island on January 31, 2000 after catastrophic failure of the horizontal stabilizer on the McDonnell Douglas MD-83 enroute from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to San Francisco. Two pilots, three cabin crew and 83 passengers lost their lives.

At 4:09pm the horizontal stabilizer that had been jammed, making the plane difficult to control, was unjammed by the experienced pilots. The aircraft went into a nosedive from 31,500 feet and dropped about 8,000 feet in 80 seconds. The pilots were able to regain control of the aircraft at about 24,000 feet.

The pilots planned to divert to Los Angeles and bring the plane down to 10,000 feet, but wanted to make their maneuvers and adjustments over the ocean before flying back over the coast. At 4:19pm there were thumps heard on the cockpit voice recorder and an “extemely loud noise”. Other aircraft in the vicinity reported seeing Alaska Flight 261 nosedive out of control. The CVR recorded the co-pilot say “Mayday”. The plane descended 18,000 feet in 81 seconds before hitting the ocean at high speed.

For their actions during the emergency, Captain Ted Thompson and First Officer Bill Tansky were awarded the Airline Pilots Association Gold Medal for Heroism, the only time the award has been given posthumously. – Wikipedia.

Subsequent NTSB investigations determined inadequate maintenance of the aircraft resulted in excessive wear and tear of the jackscrew assembly which failed inflight on Alaska Flight 261.

Alaska Flight 261

Alaska Flight 261 Memorial

January 31, 200 at 4:22pm Alaska Flight 261 ended off Anacapa Island. The flight was enroute from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to San Francisco and Seattle. This monument honors and remembers for all time the eighty-eight passengers and crew members who lost their lives.

Alaska Flight 261 ended 8 miles off the California Coast Anacapa Island.

Alaska Air Flight 261 Memorial Sundial

The Memorial was designed by Santa Barbara sculptor James ‘Bud’ Bottoms. The Memorial features a 36-foot diameter concrete plaza with a curving sand wall and seating area and a raised sundial in the center. The sundial’s bronze dolphins and gnomon cast a shadow on the 20-foot diameter dial face oriented to Pacific Standard Time. Names of each of the victims are inscribed on individual bronze plates mounted on the perimeter of the dial.

Alaska Flight 261 Memorial-2

The gnomon is the part of the sundial that casts the shadow. The sculpture design results in the sundial marking 4:22pm on January 31 each year.

Alaska Flight 261 Memorial-3

Related articles: 14 Years Later, Drama of Alaska Airlines 261 Remembered Posted on January 30, 2014 | By Christine Negroni

Seattle Post Intelligencer – Memorials quieter today, but Flight 261 grief still hurts

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined in 2008.

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  1. Thx for posting this. Hadn’t thought of the AS crash in a long time, and didn’t know there was a memorial.

  2. James “Bud” Bottoms is also the father of actors Timothy and Joseph Bottoms. All are Santa Barbara natives.

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