48 years later, survivors recall fiery KC-135 tanker crash near 21st and Piatt

Marcus Scales slipped a chunk of metal from his pocket.

It reminds him of “the warzone” — what he calls the aftermath of the KC-135 tanker crash that killed his neighbors on Jan. 16, 1965.

Scales said he thinks his piece of the jet, which fills his palms, is the largest still in a survivor’s hands.

“People was on fire when we came over here,” said Scales, now 56, as he pointed toward a towering black granite monument marking the site of the crash.

The KC-135, fully loaded with 31,000 gallons of fuel, destroyed several homes in Scales’ African-American neighborhood near 20th and Piatt.

Thirty people died.

He was 9.

“It’s something I’ll never forget.”

A few dozen people — many children, like Scales, when the plane crashed — gathered at Piatt Memorial Park on Wednesday afternoon to observe the crash’s 48th anniversary.

Amid prayers and memories shared by survivors and the descendants of those killed, Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau told the crowd the crash remains the worst non-natural disaster in Kansas history.

“Who expects to be home on a Saturday morning, watching cartoons and have a plane fall from the sky?” said Faust-Goudeau, echoing those who remember that episodes of Mighty Mouse and Casper the Friendly Ghost were on TV at 9:30 a.m. when a mechanical failure caused the jet to go down.

“This is part of our history, a part of Kansas history,” she said.

Darell Woodard’s first girlfriend, Brenda Dunn, was among the dead that chilly January morning. He was 7 and engrossed in cartoons before the impact.

As a kid, he used to search for pieces of the jet, he said. A few years ago he found a half-dollar-sized shard he fitted with a chain to wear around his neck.

“It happened so fast, you couldn’t do anything,” Woodard, 55, said. “Not even run.”

“I think about it all of the time but it makes me realize how blessed I am to still be alive.”

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