By LANCE ARMSTRONG, Valley Community Newspaper writer
It can be hard to believe for many people that 40 years have already passed since that horrific day when a plane crashed into Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour at 5770 Freeport Blvd., opposite the northwest corner of Executive Airport.
With such an infamous moment in the city’s history, the memories of that day remain strong in the minds of many longtime area residents.
The road to this dreadful incident can be traced back to 1964, when construction began on The Crossroads, a $1.5 million shopping center on about an 8-acre site, which had been owned by the Setzer family since the late 1930s. The project was completed during the following year.
On Sept. 13, 1970, The Sacramento Bee published an aerial view photograph, which showed the shopping center’s rectangular-shaped addition, which was nearing completion.
Included in the caption accompanying the photograph were the following words: “(The addition) will house a Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour and four other shops.”
The Freeport Boulevard Farrell’s opened two months later.
And like the other locations of this Portland-based chain, which specialized in ice cream products and sandwiches, this south area eatery became a popular dining spot and an entertaining place for birthday parties.
Farrell’s, which was known for its turn-of-the-20th century décor and straw hat-wearing, uniformed employees who would sing in celebration of a guest’s birthday, had already established itself in the Sacramento area.
A Farrell’s opened at 1441 Howe Ave. on May 27, 1969.
Farrell’s name linked to tragedy
But unfortunately for Farrell’s, despite experiencing success in other Sacramento area locations, including the Downtown Plaza and Sunrise Mall, its name, on a local level, has been forever linked with that tragic day when a plane struck its Freeport Boulevard location.
In fact, in the history of local businesses, few business names cause a greater reaction among longtime Sacramentans than the name, Farrell’s.
After all, Farrell’s was associated with one of the darkest days in Sacramento history.
On Sunday, Sept. 24, 1972 at about 4:25 p.m., at the end of the Golden West Sport Aviation Air Show at the airport, a 36-year-old pilot, named Richard Bingham, attempted to take off in an F-86 Sabrejet aircraft from the 3,000-foot-long Runway 30 on the west side of the airport.
Overrunning the runway, the plane skidded across Freeport Boulevard and crashed into the very busy Farrell’s restaurant. About 100 people were inside the eatery during the incident.
Although Bingham, who was a resident of Novato, Calif., survived the crash, 22 others in the restaurant, including 12 children, were not as fortunate. Additionally, an entire family lost their lives and about 30 people were injured in the accident.
At the time of the Farrell’s plane crash and until the events of Sept. 11, 2001, it was the worst air-ground tragedy in the nation’s history.
List of victims
Those killed inside Farrell’s as a result of the crash were: Walter Warren Krier, a 32-year-old account executive with Mitchum, Jones and Templeton stockbrokers; Sandra Ann Krier, Walter’s 28-year-old wife; Walter and Sandra’s 8-year-old daughter, Jennifer Ann, and 2-year-old son, Brandon; Leon C. Warram, a 49-year-old electronics technician at McClellan Air Force Base; Leon’s 50-year-old wife, Ellen; Louis “Bud” Jugum, a 43-year-old systems analyst for the California Western States Life Insurance Co.; Louis’ 10-year-old daughter, Elaine; Nancy Keys, a 12-year-old student at Arden School; Nancy’s 14-year-old sister, Sally, who was a student at El Camino High School; 29-year-old Anthony Martin, who owned Morey’s Letterman emblem shop at 5434 14th Ave.; Anthony’s 28-year-old wife, Susan; Anthony and Susan’s children, Gregory, 6, Jeanene, 4, and Shawn, 3; Susan’s 43-year-old father, Gene LaVine; Susan’s 46-year-old mother, Margaret LaVine; Anthony and Susan’s nephews, Jeff Nash, 5, and Gary Nash, 2; 3-year-old Kristin “Kristi” Francis; 29-year-old Joan Bacci; and 8-year-old Nancy Rodriguez.
Also killed during the incident were a couple whose car was struck by the plane while they were commuting along Freeport Boulevard and Billie Gertrude Irwin, who was hit by a car while she was crossing the boulevard toward the accident scene.
Founding of the Burn Institute
The Farrell’s tragedy raised awareness of the need for a specialized burn unit in Sacramento.
Acting on his desire to have such a unit established, Cliff Haskell, a fire captain with the Sacramento Fire Department, led a drive that resulted in the founding of the Firefighters Burn Institute.
It was not long afterward that the city’s first burn unit opened at the University of California, Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.
In 2002, Kerri (Francis) McCluskey, a survivor of the Farrell’s tragedy and the identical twin sister of Kristi Francis, learned that plans were being made to renovate the building at the crash site for a police and fire public safety headquarters.
McCluskey, who suffered a broken leg in the crash, said that this news caused her to take action in the attempt to either halt the project or have the use of the old Runway 30 discontinued.
Memorial gets established
Although McCluskey was not successful in these efforts, her perseverance led to the establishment of a memorial at the crash site. The memorial was dedicated on Saturday, March 15, 2003.
Featured in the memorial is a 5-foot-tall, granite fountain that spreads water across the inscribed names of 23 victims of the tragedy.
Behind the fountain is a plaque that describes the incident that happened at the site on Sept. 24, 1972, and on the south side of the memorial is another plaque recognizing those who contributed to the establishment of the memorial.
Also included in the memorial are 11 rose bushes that were donated by Capital Nursery and represent each family who lost a loved one or loved ones during the Farrell’s tragedy.
Today, McCluskey resides in Sonora with her husband, Andrew, her 15-year-old daughter, Kristin, who was named after McCluskey’s late sister, her son, Connor, 12, and her daughter, Annika, 8.
McCluskey, who presently works as the counselor at Sonora Elementary School, said that although she will always have a void in her life without her sister, she has continuously learned to better deal with that void.
“You never get over losing someone,” McCluskey said. “You learn how to keep going. You can live two ways. For one, when you go through a tragedy, you can just give up and mope and go through life and think everything is awful. Going through the accident was horrific. I’m not going to downplay that, but you get to a point where you have to make something good come out of something bad. That’s how I’ve gotten through it, and through counseling with other kids and through the Firefighters Burn Institute, it’s like the living memorial. I still have a hole in my heart without (Kristi), but it’s a heart-shaped hole.”
Upcoming ceremony in memory of the tragedy
In memory of the Farrell’s tragedy of 1972, a ceremony will be held at the Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour Memorial site at 5770 Freeport Blvd. on Sunday, Sept. 23 at 1 p.m.
Attending the event will be survivors and others who are closely connected to the Farrell’s tragedy. A short program at the gathering will include a speech by McCluskey.
Jim Doucette, who serves as the executive director of the Firefighters Burn Institute and remembers seeing the smoke cloud rise above south Sacramento on Sept. 24, 1972, officially invited the public to attend the event.
“Please join us and others that have been touched by this and other burn-related tragedies in commemorating the 40th anniversary of this terrible, but significant event,” Doucette said.