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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Piatt St. crash remembered

The Wichita Eagle

Sonya House said she remembers vividly when a KC-135 tanker crashed on Piatt Street in 1965.

"Honey child, I saw that going down — that airplane went down in that field over there, and all you seen was fire," said House, who lived 67 steps away from the site of the crash.

House, now 76, said she drove to the corner, where her neighbors were standing, watching the area in front of them go up in flames.

"I asked someone, I said, 'What happened?' and they said, 'An airplane fell,' " House said. "It landed over here, and splashed down there and burned up all those houses and animals and trees and vegetation — everything."

State Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau will host a memorial service Sunday for the 46th anniversary of the tragedy. The event will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday at Piatt Memorial Park, 2037 N. Piatt.

Faust-Goudeau said officials will raise U.S. and Kansas flags to honor the 30 people who lost their lives on Jan. 16, 1965.

"It was much like 9/11 — people remember exactly where they were and what they were doing," Faust-Goudeau said.

In the years following the crash, survivors went to McConnell Air Force Base — where the ill-fated tanker was based — to remember their loved ones. But security measures that resulted from 9/11 made entry to the base difficult, Faust-Goudeau said.

It was not until 2007 that the Piatt Street Plane Crash Memorial was finally erected.

"When I started working for this project in 2004, it was really obvious to me that many of the families were still mourning because there had not been any recognition of their loss," said Carla Lee, vice coordinator of the project.

Lee said the group placed Ecclesiastes 3:4-5 on the monument specifically for those long-term mourners. The verse speaks of "a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together."

"For the community, it's a historical archive that we see as healing the broken hearts and binding up the wounds of those that had lost their loved ones," Lee said.

House said she understands the healing factor of the monument on a personal level.

"I can just walk out on my porch and see it, and that blesses me," House said. "It helps me out that I can just look out and see it, and I thank the Lord."

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