Victims of airplane crash remembered

March 18, 2003 11:00 pm

Victims of airplane crash remembered

By LENORE

RUTHERFORD

and The Associated Press

SACRAMENTO — Thirty years after a vintage war jet crashed into a crowded Sacramento ice cream parlor, family members gathered this weekend to dedicate a memorial to the 23 victims.

"It was emotionally draining," said Kathy Francis of Sonora, who traveled to Sacramento for Saturday's ceremony with her husband, Roger Francis. "But it was also a wonderful experience.

"I think there were between 40 and 50 people there from Tuolumne County, including some we weren't expecting to see."

One of the couple's twin daughters, Kristi, died in the crash. Her surviving twin, Kerri Francis McCluskey, spearheaded efforts to put up a memorial.

Francis said she felt physically ill driving to the site for the first time since she and her husband rushed there after hearing about the crash 30 years ago.

"But when I got there, it was OK," she said. "It ended up being a very peaceful day because it recognized the heartache of so many people, especially when the doves were released against the blue sky."

The crash on Sept. 24, 1972, ‘‘left an indelible mark on the entire community,'' said Sacramento Police Chief Albert Najera, who had been on the job three months when he was called to the scene.

The Korean War-era F-86 Sabrejet fighter was part of an air show at the Sacramento Executive Airport. The plane's pilot lost control on takeoff, skidded across Freeport Boulevard, hit a car and then smashed into the corner of Farrell's Ice Cream Parlour.

Twenty-three people, including 12 children, died in the crash.

McCluskey, now 34, remembers arguing with Kristi over who would sit at the end of the booth. Kristi won, and both girls, then nearly 4 years old, started eating a huge bowl of ice cream with little animals in it, McCluskey said.

‘‘Then everything went dark, and there were screams and the jet fuel smell,'' she said.

Kerri was found under rubble by her 12-year-old baby sitter. Kristi Francis and the baby sitter's mother, Joan Bacci, died in the crash.