More than 33 years ago, two pilots from the California Highway Patrol were making their last safety sweep over Castaic prior to the start of Labor Day weekend, when the airship became tangled in power lines, crashing and burning and killing the two officers.
On Friday, the CHP honored fallen Southern Division Officers Gayle Wood Jr. and James E. McCabe with a flyover and ceremony at their Newhall office, just a few miles from the crash site.
Gathered for the tribute were family members, including Wood’s wife Ilene and McCabe’s wife Lyn, as well as dozens of siblings, children and grandchildren. Many CHP retirees and supporters were there, several of them standing near an honor guard of uniformed officers.
Assistant CHP Commissioner Ramona Prieto said that the officers were not being honored for how they died, but rather for how they lived and their contributions to the people of California.
“Our department lost two heroes, our state lost two heroes and our nation lost two heroes,” she said. “We are here to honor the family members as well as the officers.”
Prieto gave a brief background on the officers, sharing that McCabe had been an officer with the CHP for seven years, and had been assigned to the West LA and Malibu offices before joining the aero bureau. He served in the US Army and flew helicopters over Vietnam. Wood was in the AirOps bureau for five years and previously flew for Hermosa Beach Police Department.
“Our officers take an oath to lay down their lives,” said Shawn Stevens, Director of the California Association Of Highway Patrolmen. “We vow to them that should they fulfill that oath that they will not be forgotten by the CHP or the citizens of California.”
Indicating the highway sign awaiting unveiling, Stevens said that the men would forever be remembered by drivers on one of the most traveled freeways in the nation. He specifically aimed his comments at Wood and McCabe’s grandchildren, who filled the seats before him.
“Thousands of the very people they vowed to protect are going to know their names,” he said.
After a short lineup of speakers honored the men, including Jarrod Degonia from Assemblyman Cameron Smyth’s office, Senior Deputy Rosalind Wayman from LA County Supervisor Michael Antonovich’s office and Santa Clarita Mayor Pro-Tem Laurie Ender, Newhall Commander Captain Mark Odle asked the grandchildren to step over to the large highway sign, sheathed in blue with flowers at each post, for the official unveiling.
He told the crowd that one of the signs had already been installed on the northbound I-5 just south of Templin Highway; after the ceremonies, Caltrans was taking the second sign and would install it on the southbound side.
“Even though the accident was 33 years ago, this affords my grandson an opportunity to put everything into proportion and have very good thoughts. They’ll grow up honoring law enforcement and realize that there’s more to it than getting tickets when you drive too fast and that there’s a family involved,” said Lyn McCabe. “I think from a younger children’s standpoint and from Ilene’s family and mine, we have some everlasting strong memories. We, as widows, appreciate it.”
“This has been a wonderful day and I’m very grateful to the Highway Patrol,” said Ilene Wood. “This has been a marvelous reunion.”