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San Diego Remembers Crash Of PSA Flight 182

A memorial for the 40th anniversary of the crash of Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 182 is shown at the intersection of Dwight and Nile streets, Sept. 25, 2018.
Ebone Monet
A memorial for the 40th anniversary of the crash of Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 182 is shown at the intersection of Dwight and Nile streets, Sept. 25, 2018.

The 40th anniversary of the crash of Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 182, which killed 144 people, was marked Tuesday with a ceremony in the North Park neighborhood where the jetliner came down.

At the intersection of Dwight and Nile streets, where the PSA jetliner hit the ground at 9:01 a.m. on Sept. 25, 1978, a remembrance ceremony for the crash victims was attended by state and local officials, including City Councilman Chris Ward, Sen. Toni Atkins, Assemblyman Todd Gloria and Police Chief Dave Nisleit.

San Diego Remembers Crash Of PSA Flight 182

They were joined by first responders and members of the North Park neighborhood in unveiling a temporary plaque on the corner of Dwight and Nile to honor the victims. What a permanent on-site memorial could look like is still a matter of some debate.

"Everyone agrees there needs to be a suitable memorial," Gloria said. "I sense a level of consensus (about a permanent memorial) that wasn't there a few years ago."

Members of the PSA Flight 182 Historical Memorial Committee are working with the office of City Councilman Chris Ward to find a permanent location for a memorial plaque in the neighborhood — one already exists at the San Diego Air & Space Museum — that doesn't infringe on private property rights or public safety.

"I want to thank all the members of the memorial committee for your continued work with the City Council to be able to truly honor and respect this place, which is both hallowed ground and but also has rebuilt and is a vibrant neighborhood," said Ward, who represents District 3, which includes North Park.

Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 182, with its wing aflame after a collision with a smaller plane, plunges to earth killing all passengers and crew, in San Diego, Sept. 25, 1978.
Associated Press
Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 182, with its wing aflame after a collision with a smaller plane, plunges to earth killing all passengers and crew, in San Diego, Sept. 25, 1978.

In El Cajon, Grossmont College plans to screen a 2010 documentary film about the crash, "Return to Dwight and Nile," at 6 p.m. After the screening, first responders, surviving family members and former PSA

employees will share their memories of the crash.

Flight 182 was descending on San Diego International Airport when it collided with a private Cessna 172 over North Park. The Boeing 727 crashed near the intersection of Dwight and Nile streets, while the Cessna landed near the intersection of Polk Avenue and 32nd Street. In addition to the 135 killed aboard Flight 182 and the two Cessna co-pilots, the crash killed seven people on the ground, including two children.

Nine others on the ground were injured and 22 homes in North Park were destroyed or damaged.

"All these years later, people in San Diego vividly remember this event and many still suffer the loss of family and friends," said Marty Ennis, a history professor at Grossmont College who organized the school's memorial event and covers the crash in his history classes.

"Members of the San Diego police and fire departments who were first responders experienced the most difficult moment of their career on that day," Ennis said. "Many people in San Diego had friends and relatives who worked for the airline. There is a group dedicated to the creation of a memorial to the victims of this crash and feel very strongly that the event must be remembered."

San Diego To Remember Crash Of PSA Flight 182
San Diego To Remember Crash of PSA 182 GUEST: Martin Ennis, professor of American history, Grossmont College

I'm Maureen Cavanagh. San Diego marks the fortieth anniversary of a tragedy. Today it's known as the PSA crash the terrible midair collision between a passenger jet and a Cessna over Northpark. Early on a Monday morning in 1978 pieces of aircraft fire and bodies fell from the sky and crashed into the neighborhood. There were no survivors onboard either plane and several people on the ground were killed bringing the death toll to 144 people. A remembrance ceremony was held this morning at Dwight and Nyal streets where PSA 182 crashed. Joining me now is American history professor Martin anice of Grossmont College. He's holding an event tonight in honor of the anniversary with a screening of the documentary titled Return to Dwight and niall and Martin Janis. Welcome to the program. Thank you for having me. Now you've been holding forums about the PSA crash for a couple of years now. Why do you believe it's significance to San Diego. Well this incident that happened 40 years ago today is important on many levels. One of course is we have to acknowledge that 144 people died under tragic circumstances and there are many relatives and friends of the victims who continue to suffer to this day. And I think that that suffering and loss needs to be acknowledged. Also San Diego Police and fire department dealt with something that most of the police and firemen had never seen on that scale before. And I've spoken to some former San Diego police officers and firemen who basically say this is just the worst experience of my career and for the first responders the ordeal that they experienced on that day also needs to be acknowledged and remembered. And of course people have to remember that St. Augustine High School which is nearby the gymnasium was used as a makeshift morgue. They're affected by this. And people also have to remember that PSA was San Diego's hometown airline. A lot of the people killed in the crash were PSA employees. A lot of people in San Diego worked for PSA flew PSA knew people who worked for PSA and if you talk to former PSA employees it really was like a family. So this event affected a lot of people in San Diego and beyond and it still does. Now the devastation and the carnage caused by this crash is almost impossible to imagine. You've been speaking with residents and as you said first responders what are some of the things that they've told you that stand out to you. I've spoken to people from the neighborhood who witnessed this. And it's it's an image that's just permanently in their mind that when you see something like that it's not something that you can just you can't see it. And there are people for example a gentleman who is a former San Diego police officer made a comment to me that whenever he drives through that neighborhood the smell comes back to him of the burning jet fuel the houses on fire and and the smell of death as it happened. There were a number of photographers and cameras near the scene because of a nearby press conference. Did that leave us with more documentation than we would normally have. Absolutely. Just by coincidence I mean today everybody has an iPhone. Everybody would without their phones and we'd have you know probably several pictures and videos of this it wasn't like that 40 years ago. And it just so happened that this event was a few blocks away. And so there was a camera man who caught on video. The Cessna falling from the sky and a photographer hands when it was taking photographs and heard the explosion or the collision in the sky and took some famous photographs. Two in particular. Now there are a number of contributing factors that ended up causing this crash. But at the core you had the PSA jet descending into the Cessna because the pilots didn't know where it was. The PSA pilots were initially blamed for the crash. Do you think that was fair. Not entirely no. As inconceivable as it sounds we have one runway at Lindbergh Field. It's the to my knowledge it's the busiest single runway in North America. And the idea that that runway is going to be used by both commercial jets and private small private planes to me is very difficult to understand the logic behind that. The reality is is that the pilot of the Cessna was a student pilot. He was Prak Singh learning how to land using instrumentation and to have a small plane like that in the same airspace as these passenger jets that are coming in at a much faster rate of speed. The student pilot was not where he was supposed to be. He was off course and he ended up in the direct flight path of the PSA 727 as it was landing a student pilot didn't catch it. His instructor didn't catch this and apparently air traffic control didn't catch it either. What reforms did the PSA crash trigger. Well I'm not an expert on civil aviation. I do know that improvements have been made. We now have collision avoidance systems that are upgraded compared to what they had 40 years ago. So when the collision alerts sounded with air traffic control they didn't respond and confirm with the pilot. Do you still have this Cessna. No in sight. So what you have basically is a breakdown in communication that PSA crash is still the deadliest plane crash in California history. Are there any plaques or markers remembering the incident in North Park in North Park. I don't believe there's anything in the immediate area where the crash happened. I believe that there is a marker at the Aerospace Museum involved in Balbo Park. And I know that there is there there's the PSA 182 Memorial Committee a plaque was presented recently. Two councilman Chris Ward I believe is his name. And San Diego the city of San Diego passed a resolution naming September 25th today as a celebration of life remembrance. But there is nothing in the area specifically where the crash happened of course it's a residential neighborhood but I know that there are many people family members and friends of the victims first responders. People in the community who would like to see a memorial to this. It's appropriate based on the severity and the magnitude of this. I've been speaking with American history professor Martin Ennis of Grossmont College. Tonight he will show a documentary titled Return to Dwight and. At 6 o'clock at Griffin gate conference room at Grossmont College. And Martin Ennis thank you very much. Thank you. And you're listening to PBS midday edition. Thank you so much Maureen.

Film Screening

What: David Fresina's film Return To Dwight And Nile on the crash of PSA 182 40 years ago today

Where: Grossmont College, Griffin Gate Building 60

When: 6 p.m. Tuesday, September 25