NORTH PARK – Thirty years after a passenger jet slammed into North Park in what was then the worst aviation disaster in the nation’s history, longtime San Diego residents have yet to shake all they witnessed that day.More than 100 people showed up yesterday morning for an impromptu remembrance of the victims of the crash, crowding the very corner where the Pacific Southwest Airlines Boeing 727 fell to the ground at 9:02 a.m. Sept. 25, 1978.
Standing at Dwight and Nile streets, emotions welled up as those gathered squeezed loved ones and traded stories about that awful morning when the passenger jet and a small private plane collided in a bright, cloudless sky and 144 people lost their lives.
As 9:02 a.m. approached, attendees joined in an extended moment of silence. Heads bowed across a wide circle eight and 10 people deep.
In the center, next to a floral wreath resting on a wooden easel, stood Ray Bentley, a pastor at Maranatha Chapel in Rancho Bernardo. He was trying to wrestle some sense from a terrible day long ago.
Hans Wendt / (c)1978
“Maybe somehow today, a little bit more comfort and healing will come,” Bentley said, before reciting Psalm 23. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want . . . ”
PSA was a San Diego-based carrier that focused on flights throughout California. Flight 182 had left Sacramento that morning and stopped in Los Angeles before heading to San Diego.
More than two dozen of the crash victims were PSA employees because the airline offered off-duty personnel sharply discounted seats on flights that were not fully booked.
Former PSA pilot Jim Van Vranken barely missed boarding Flight 182. He took a later flight out of L.A. and arrived at Lindbergh Field minutes after the crash.
“All I can see is their young faces,” said Van Vranken, who had avoided the corner of Dwight and Nile until yesterday.
Joe Irwin of Solana Beach lost his brother, John, in the accident.
He brought boxes of white doves yesterday to release in his brother’s memory, and offered a bird to those who cared to mark their remembrance.
“One day we will all follow that same journey home to our Father in heaven,” Irwin said. A moment later he loosened his grip and let one bird fly.