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.