56 Years Ago, a Plane Crashed in Old Mountain View

A jet airplane on approach to Moffett Field exploded scattering wreckage and debris near the heart of the city. The lone casualty was the pilot.

Welcome to the first column in a new series: "Today in Mountain View History."

When I first launched Mountain View Patch, I visited the Mountain View Public Library's History Center and approached Betty and Bobby McPhee (the sisters are the caretakers and gatekeepers to these archives) with this idea. The octogenarians looked at me and wished me luck. Needless to say, I haven't been able to document 365 days of Mountain View's past.

However thanks to a new Facebook group, Remember Mountain View, created by Mike Carroll an area resident, painter and history buff, I got a tip about an event that occurred on a Friday, just like today, 56 years ago. I can't promise that I'll have something for everyday of the year, but I'll try to bring you more in the days and weeks to come.

On Feb. 1, 1957, a Navy Thunderjet plane piloted by Capt. Robert Mulvehill, 32, of Edenburg, PA, exploded at 3:25 p.m. over Mountain View while on approach to Moffett Field.

The plane traveled parallel to Castro Street when it tore apart and crashed near the vicinity of California and Oak Streets, according to the Mountain View Register Ledger—the local paper of record at the time.

The home of Mr. and Mrs. Les Wright, at 1093 California St., became completely engulfed in flames—apparently by the jet fuel. The second story of 427 Franklin St., where Mr. and Mrs. Carbajal lived, also caught fire. The Mountain View Fire Department extinguished both fires within the first hour of the crash, according to the Register Ledger.

Debris fell across several blocks and included the jet's engine, which fell into the front yard at 420 Franklin St. In total, the crash damaged 22 homes in Mountain View.

The pilot's body landed in the driveway of 445 Bryant St., the home of Mrs. Ruby Rhett.

Mulvehill's family, his wife and four children—ages four months to 10 years old—awaited his arrival into Moffett Field from his point of origian Luke Air Force Base, in AZ.

Suddenly Mildred Mulvehill saw the smoke and "knew that it was him." The mother told her children, that "he had orders to go to heaven," as reported by the Register Ledger.

Mountain View High, Mountain View Academy and Dana Street school were all located near the explosion and crash site, and children would have been getting out of school around that time.

"It's a miracle!" then-Mayor Lawrence E. Anderson told the Register Ledger in regards to how many more people could have died.

According to then-Mountain View Police Chief Arthur Nielsen, between 50 and 75,000 people from the area—including the 22,000 residents of Mountain View—came to see the wreckage. Approximately 400 sailors and Marines from Moffett Field provided security.

Where you here when this happened? Do you remember hearing stories about it? Tell us in the comment?

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Claudia Cruz February 06, 2013 at 08:38 AM
Thanks for sharing these comments @mrmyers. The "raining of jets" led to major changes as to the type of planes that could land at Moffett Field. But yes, these memories will persist for some, while being new information for others.
Claudia Cruz February 06, 2013 at 08:40 AM
Maria, this is an incredible story! It was a miracle that not more people got hurt. I'm glad you enjoyed reminiscing about the stories you heard from your childhood!
Jacque Hollander February 11, 2013 at 02:22 AM
I read your story. My name is Jacque Hollander. Google my name. I am the Captains Daughter. My fathers tragedy ophaned children. Destroyed my mother. But saved many of your lives. I have spent years with my secret. Until now. I wish i could hold your city in my arms and say im sorry. I wish i could erase your pain. Maybe if my father had lived it would have been differant for me too. When you look at my photo maybe you will see the captains eyes. When you read my story you will find his couge and strenght. I changed and created a law for all rape victims including children. I am the Captains Daughter and to all of you who have experianced pain. I am sorry. JACQUE HOLLANDER 1 815 814 5671
Tracy February 12, 2013 at 04:38 AM
Unfortunately, this article was a not a great reminiscing story nor did I get a kick out of reading about it. My grandfather was the pilot that was killed and struggling to get out of the plane. I was never able to met him (obviously since my mom was just a little girl when this happened). But seeing these pictures and reading this story was very upsetting for me. I am not sure who the above comments are from, but he had four kids and they are all in the picture with my late grandma.
Claudia Cruz February 12, 2013 at 05:46 AM
Hi Tracy: It was not my intention to make light of your family's tragedy with the use of the word "reminisce." The word was used in connection to the moments that the above reader shared with her grandfather. There is no question that date was horrific for your family and for many in the community. My condolences.


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