Ken Layne offers directions and background for tourists heading to San Diego with an interest in sites of murder and suicide. He mentions three infamous crimes, but if wants visitors to find ghosts of mass death, I would include a four-block area of North Park around Dwight and Nile streets.
On a clear-skied Monday morning, Sept. 25, 1978, a Cessna being flown by a student pilot, collided with PSA Flight 182. On the ground, some people slept, a few tended to their gardens or hurried off to work. In North Park, homes and apartments are tight against each other, so the neighborhood is thickly populated. But Monday is a work day, and North Park has never been a haven for the leisure class, so most of the dwellings were empty that morning. When the jet hit the ground, a four-block area burst into flames, yet only seven people on the ground were killed. There were 144 people on the Flight 182 and all perished.
I heard about the crash from classmates before I ever saw the news. A few of them had seen the plane go down. My high school, Grossmont, in La Mesa, is probably about 20 miles from the crash site. I was in gym class at the time of the crash, but on that particular day, we were playing basketball indoors. When I got home that afternoon, my mom had the news on, transfixed by the horror of burning homes and black skies on TV. I guess the initial TV coverage was pretty graphic, but I never saw that. A picture of some burned out homes can be seen on this page.
The photo of the plane going down was taken by an amature photographer who was refueling his car at a nearby gas station. The Evening Tribune, which ran the picture that afternoon big and wide, won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the tragedy.
I first visited the neighborhood a few months after the crash. There was nothing there. It was a sad, lonely place. Now, homes have been rebuilt and if you didn’t know about the crash, you wouldn’t recognize the place as a site of disaster, even the architecture is totally different from the surrounding homes.