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January 1948: Tragic death of immigrant workers inspires a song of solidarity

By: 
Chris Mahin
The fire began over Los Gatos Canyon. It started in the left engine-driven fuel pump. The plane crashed 20 miles west of Coalinga, California, on January 28, 1948. It came down into hills which, as one commentator noted, at that time of year are “a beautiful green, splendid with wildflowers … a place of breathtaking beauty.”

There were 32 people on board that day, but the names of only four were recorded for history. The newspaper articles about the crash written at the time describe an accident involving a Douglas DC-3 carrying immigrant workers from Oakland, California to the El Centro, California Deportation Center. Those accounts give the name of the plane’s pilot (Frank Atkinson), and co-pilot (Marion Ewing). They mention the name of the stewardess (Bobbi Atkinson) and the guard (Frank E. Chapin). However, the newspaper stories did not include the names of any of the 27 men or of the one woman who were passengers on that flight, victims who were buried in a mass grave at Holy Cross Cemetery in Fresno, California. Those reports simply dismissed them as “deportees.”