On this day in 1962, plane crashes in to Mountlake Terrace home

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From HistoryLink.org:

On April 21, 1962, during the Seattle Century 21 World’s Fair opening ceremonies, an Air Force F102 airplane crashes into the Mountlake Terrace neighborhood.

As part of the opening day ceremonies, 10 Air Force F102s with the 64th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron at Paine Field near Everett did a flyby over the Century 21 fairgrounds.

Moments after the flyby, at 1,500 feet elevation, one of the planes’ engines flamed out. After two unsuccessful attempts to restart the engine, pilot Captain Joseph W. Wildt decided to ditch the F102 and headed it north towards Lake Washington. The pilot safely ejected but the plane missed the north end of the lake by three miles and crashed into a Mountlake Terrace neighborhood.

The crash killed Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Smith, destroyed two homes, and damaged five others. An investigation determined that Captain Wildt did not factor in the effect the loss of his weight would have on the plane’s trajectory.

Back at the Century 21 World’s Fairgrounds, no one realized there had been a tragedy, and the celebration continued.

Here is an eye witness account of the crash from the Seattle PI blog:

I lived in Mountlake and was in the front yard washing my ’58 Impala convertible and getting an occasional glimpse of the planes as they circled the north end of Seattle. Suddenly I saw two jets, one following very close to the other one, coming in from the southeast and over Lake Forest Park. The planes were flying so low that they were barely over the tree tops.
They disappeared out of sight and suddenly I heard a very loud explosion and a ball of orange colored flame billowed into the air and wood shot out of the top of it. The second jet looked like it flew right through the flames. At first I thought that it had crashed into the gas station at 56th SW and 244th. I jumped in my car and drove the few blocks and couldn’t believe the damage.

At least two houses were on fire and I helped drag a smoldering mattress from the bedroom of one of them. The plane actually clipped a swing set in one of the burning houses then continued across the street and hit a house and the only thing left of that house was the foundation and a car with burned off tires in the driveway.

An elderly man told me that most of the kids who usually played on the swing set had gone to the fair and that an elderly couple was in the house that had been where the foundation was. There was a smoldering jet engine in an evergreen tree about a block west of the missing house. I found a piece of the jet with numbers on it and took it home with me. Some time later some officials showed up and asked me for it. They said that they needed it for putting the plane back together as much as they could so they could try to figure out the case of the crash.

I never really heard anything about the crash anymore and so many people have moved or passed on and it was getting harder to verify the crash. Sometimes I would wonder if I really had witnessed the crash or was it a dream. I can still see it happen in my mind.

17 COMMENTS

  1. This was my house. I was 12 years old at the time. My family and I were vacationing with my grandparents in Kelowna, B.C. Canada when the crash occurred. I remember my father taking the call and slumping to the floor when he heard the news. We heard the stories on the news afterwords, and what seemed like a very bad dream began to become our reality. Homeless, we made our way back to Seattle in stunned silence. Our neighbours had been killed. Our house destroyed. The whole block was behind police barricades.
    When we were finally allowed to return, I remember my parents sifting through the ashes to retrieve photographs and anything that could be salvaged from the wreckage. The real wreckage was our lives. My father had put his life savings and all his hopes into making a home for his wife and four children, and suddenly, in an instant it was gone. But wait. The nightmare continued to darken. Because it was a U.S. Navy Jet…A Blue Angel..The government acted as if they were exempt from responsibility. The Navy gave us temporary lodging at Paine Field for a few weeks, and then we were on our own. Left with nothing, my father was forced to try and litigate a settlement. His life savings were spent trying to retrieve some meaningful compensation for his loss. Of course it took years, and I remember him showing me a check for a a couple of thousand dollars for the house and everything in it. He was a broken man after that.
    We moved three times in the next year or so. Relatives pulled together and helped my dad buy another modest home in Lake Forrest Park, but he was beaten. His health began to fail and he passed away in 1986 at 64 years of age. We never even had an acknowledgment of responsibility.
    I’ve thought about this whole thing many times over the years. Tears come easily when I look through old albums of charred salvaged photographs, and remember life before that day. As a child I didn’t really understand what my parents must have suffered, but I remember being impressed with a tremendous sense of injustice over the whole ordeal. Anyway, for anyone who cares, that’s what happened at the fair.

    • Two weeks after my 8th birthday I watched from my picture window as The plane descended. I believed until the very last second that it would pull up and fly away as a part of the show! For years I would run into the bathtub any time a plane flew too low. I am still haunted by the sight today. I was appalled at the callousness of the media that descended on our lawn asking what I saw & if I heard the dying couple scream! I was not allowed to talk about it and never fully processed my feeling from that day. I am so sorry for your loss. I lost my innocence that day, and my belief that had I stayed in Texas, where planes never fell out of the sky I would be safe!

  2. Karleen Rutka Goodwin

    This was my house in 1962. Our family had just moved in a few months before from Ballard to live in a safer environment. This house was my mom & dad’s dream home. On the weekend of this tragedy (Easter weekend) my cousin talked our family into going to Kelowna, BC Canada to be with my Grandma & Grandpa, Aunts, Uncles & Cousins. Mom & Dad really didn’t want to go but my cousin was persistant. I was only 10 years old at the time. I remember on Saturday, April 21st. Dad got a phone call from friends telling him that a plane went through our house. Dad was devastated and crumbled. So many years he had worked for the dream home and it was gone in a flash. No one could believe the news. Needless to say we made the drive back home. A heartbreaking ride that had a lot of silence to it. We could not get near our property and mom & dad just cried. The Navy felt they were being kind to give us a place to stay for a few days, maybe a week. Then we were on our own. Mom & Dad found a house to rent in North City for a year or so, then we moved to what is now Lake Forest Park and then they could finally afford to buy a modest house. My baby sister was born in Sept. of 1962, so now we were a family of six and it took everything dad could do to support us and make ends meet. It really had ripped us up and took the carpet right from under our feet. Our Navy/Government paid mom & dad a small amount of money to square up and called it good. Our family never recovered from this devistation. Needless to say it took the toll on my father and he died in 1986 at the age of 64. I will never forget that day in 1962 and what it did to our family and how the Navy/Goverment responded. I am angry to this day and still feel uncomfortable when I hear airplanes flying over our house.

  3. wow, my heart breaks for this family. I was five years old and lived about 6 blocks up, and recall looking out the window and seeing the plane go by very low at about house level. Then running down with my mom and neighbor lady. The visions are vague, but I often wondered about this and googled it this evening, just to see. The victims are in my prayers.

  4. I was at the opening of the fair and took a 35mm pic. of those jets as they came over head. The one that went down was falling out of formation to the north. Little did I know it would crash in Mountlake Terrace where I now live.

    • I believed they were Blue Angles for long time but early reports said they were a Canadian version of a flying team. But these reports are saying Air force so I am confused. I just know that the smell of jet fuel burned y nose for weeks afterwards & I thought I would never forget the smell

  5. I lived in the upper terrace than and also remember the crash my father was president of the mlt jc’s we went to help with the clean up after all the goverment finished up i was 9 years at that time i remember it was black qnd flat like so many others i forgot about that untill we were talking about the nuculer silos on mile hill in mountlake terrace my uncle steve was police dispatcher the day the plane crashed and he gave us some inside scoops at the time he also was the one who hot us able to go into the crash zone early it wad bad.

  6. To the Rutkas: I find it reprehensible that what happened to your family after the crash was as awful as the crash itself. I lived in Shoreline at the time, and was about 15 years old. I remember when this happened and thought it was terrible, but never imagined that there would be no help for the families whose homes were destroyed. I used to think things were better in “the old days”, but now I am beginning to wonder where I got my Pollyanna view of the world.

  7. I was eight years old at the time. Raymond and Lilian were my grandparents. While our loss was overwhelming, we were always thankful none of the neighbors had been home. I am truly sorry that the impact on the lives of those who survived was so devastating.

  8. I witnessed this plane crash from the top of the cul-de-sac of 193rd St in Lake Forest Park, where I lived with my parents and siblings (the Pirie family). At the time I was a student at Kellogg Junior High School.  On this particular day I happened to be outside when the jet flew very low over our neighborhood, barely missing the rooftops. The image of the plane sinking has been seared into my memory.

    (Gravity, No Engines) is a creative nonfiction story I wrote about this event. The story has been published in The Louisville Review, vol. 74, page 93. The PDF file may be accessed online for free: http://www.louisvillereview.org/
    It was interesting to read other witness comments, and also heartbreaking to learn that the family who escaped physical harm at the time, had their lives  irrevocably damaged by the event. Like them, I had always assumed it was a Navy jet. Thinking about the crash in later years, I must have associated the unusually warm day with the annual Blue Angels flyover of Lake Washington during Seafair.  Memory is always part imagination, thus the term, “Creative Nonfiction.” 

    Susan (Pirie) Chiavelli

  9. My wife and me and four children were living in Lynnwood Wa. When l knew a plane had gone down I grabbed my oldest daughter age seven jumped into the car and headed south towards the smoke and fire when we arrived the area wa roped off This is the best part of the story I was standing next to a policeman when a post office truck drove up and informed the driver he could not go through The postman said L will deliver the mail hell or high water L work for theveryone U.Seattle. Government He then drove through the smoke and flames and deliver the mail I would never forget that story.

  10. I remember this plane crash well. I was 10 years old and my family was driving on Bothell Way northeast through Lake Forest Park. I saw three planes continue straight in formation but one plane was definitely veering off to the left and getting closer and closer to land. The troubled plane flew right over our car and as it disappeared over the hill I told my parents I thought that plane was going to crash. They dismissed me while they were talking and later that evening on the news they realized that what I said actually happened.

  11. I was playing outside with my friends on 203rd street NE, when the jet went right over our heads and crashed two blocks away. Have never seen such black smoke in my life. I remember it like it happened yesterday ! I was a student at Aldercrest Elementary at the time. We were all asked to bring in the pieces of the jet that we had gathered from the woods near the crash site, so they could be turned in to the government for reconstruction to determine the cause of the crash.

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