Sharon Dale-Watkins was only 15 at the time of the Piatt Street plane crash.
On a whim, she got up early that day with her father, Harvey. He went to work, and she decided to go to her grandmother’s house at 12th and Mathewson to fry some bacon for breakfast. She did that and had started back to her home at 2059 N. Piatt when she had a moment of doubt: Had she left the fire on under the skillet?
The teenager went back to her grandmother’s house, and just as she was going up the porch steps, she heard a rumble. Her grandmother’s house vibrated, and she heard a big boom.
“I didn’t know what it was,” Dale-Watkins said. “I got back in the car, and when I got back to the neighborhood, there were all these clouds and fire. I didn’t know an airplane had crashed.”
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When she finally was able to get to her family’s house, everything was gone.
“I don’t know if my mother and sister were still in bed or if they got up,” she said. “They didn’t make it.
“It was a big disaster.”
Nearly a decade ago, state Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau sat on a committee that began raising money to build a monument at the crash site: a towering black granite statue flanked by benches. The memorial is open to the public.
On Friday, the 50th anniversary of the plane crash, a memorial service and dinner will be held. Events begin at 3 p.m. at the memorial park crash site, 20th and Piatt.
Representatives from McConnell Air Force Base and the Commemorative Air Force Jayhawk Wing will attend, along with family members of both the plane’s crew and neighborhood residents who died in the crash.
There is a planned flyover during the ceremony and a presentation of colors with the sounding of taps. The names of the plane crew and residents in the neighborhood who lost their lives on Jan. 16, 1965, will be read.
At 6:30 p.m., there will be a memorial dinner commemorating the crash at Wichita State University’s Hughes Metropolitan Complex, 5015 E. 29th St.