Memorial helps Piatt crash site offer solace

Sonya House said she now finds solace at the corner where she recalls the plane crash 45 years ago Saturday as kind of a hell on Earth.

"The feeling I used to have on Jan. 16 is different now," House said as she stood at 20th Street at Piatt at a memorial service to the biggest disaster in Kansas not caused by nature. "Now I feel solitude and appreciation instead of remember those flames rising into the air."

House lived 67 steps away from where a K-135 air refueling tanker from McConnell Air Force Base crashed in the northeast Wichita neighborhood, killing 30 people.

State Sens. Oletha Faust-Goudeau and Jean Schodorf were among those participating in the memorial.

"I talk to people now who say they remember it like 9/11," Faust-Goudeau said.

No city officials attended the brief memorial service, and few from the nearby houses ventured out into the 37-degree weather.

Darell Woodard remembered being 7 years old and running out of his house in his underwear on the frigid day in 1965 after the thundering crash interrupted his Saturday cartoons. Woodard jumped the fence trying to get away from the smoke and fire.

"We thought the world had ended," he said.

"We thought it was hell," House said.

For 40 years, nothing but bad memories remained at the corner.

But in 2004, Faust-Goudeau, Carla Lee of Wichita State University and survivors led a campaign to build the memorial, which was finished three years later.

"I come here to thank the people who helped build this," Faust-Goudeau said. "Some people gave $5."

"Some gave thousands," Lee added.

"And some people just gave their time, coming by to sweep the dust off the bricks," Faust Goudeau said.

Woodard now looks at the memorial with as much pride as the marker nearby that honors his sister, basketball hall-of-famer Lynette Woodard, who was at her grandmother's house that day.

"That was nice that they honored my sister, but I wanted this one to remember all my friends who were running down the street on fire," he said. "Last night, I came here. I sat. And I cried. But I find comfort knowing they are remembered."