Revisiting the Farrell’s Tragedy – More Than 40 Years Later

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On Sept. 24, 1972, an F-86 Sabre Jet raced down Runway 30 at Sacramento Executive Airport. Large crowds had turned out to enjoy an air show on a beautiful afternoon. But the jet failed to take off, and the tragedy that followed is a part of Sacramento history.

The Korean War era jet crashed into the front of a Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor across Freeport Boulevard from Executive Airport.  Twenty-two people died – more than half of them children.

Many more were burned, some very badly.  That’s what happened 41 years ago.  But that’s not where the story ends.

Anyone seated near the front of the restaurant had very little chance of surviving. Rescuers pulled debris and bodies out of the store for hours. In time, they would come to learn that one of the dead was a friend and fellow firefighter, Gene LaVine.

LaVine was killed in the fiery crash along with eight members of his family; an unfathomable loss that touched everyone in the Sacramento Fire Department.

One person in particular, Captain Cliff Haskell, turned his grief into action.

“So many people in this community don’t know about Cliff and his legacy. But this was his dream. His vision,” Jim Deucette, one of Haskell’s colleagues for many years, told FOX40. “He wasn’t a man of many words, that’s the best way to describe Cliff. But his actions spoke louder than anything he could say. And he dedicated himself to this.”

Deucette is now the Executive Director of the Firefighters Burn Institute—Haskell’s vision, founded the year after the plane crash in 1973.  The UCD Med Center’s Regional Burn Center opened a few months later.  Because of the tragedy at Farrell’s, there is now state-of-the-art care for burn victims in our area.

The Burn Institute provides Kids Camps for young burn survivors, even a “Little Heroes” preschool burn camp, both associated with Shriner’s Hospital.  The firefighters also sponsor Adult Retreats & Support Groups, and award educational scholarships for survivors and burn-care professionals.

“A lot of times through history, bad things have happened.  But good things come from that.  We’re a perfect example of that. I would do… Anyone would do anything to reverse that day and make it not happen.  But it happened and now we have to deal with it. Our charity was founded because of that, and the people that are being treated right now are benefiting because of that tragedy,” Deucette said.

Captain Haskell passed away in February of this year, but his legacy lives on.

There’s a new Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor in town, on Watt Avenue at Arden Way.  As always, it’s all about fun and family and big, gooey ice cream sundaes.  But they understand the history here in Sacramento.  The new Farrell’s has pledged to raise 100 thousand dollars its first year for the Firefighters Burn Institute.

So the story didn’t end at Exec Airport in 1972, where there is now a small memorial to the 22 people who died.  It doesn’t end with a big new Farrell’s in 2013.  And, thanks to the Firefighters Burn Institute, it may never end at all.

“That is always going to be where we started.  It’s our birth,” Deucette said. “And hopefully, 100 years from now, we’ll still remember that day.”

The Firefighters Burn Institute is THE REASON there’s a state-of-the-art burn treatment and rehabilitation center in the Sacramento area.  Local firefighters deserve our thanks and support.  If you’d like to be a part of the Burn Institute’s mission and make a permanent statement about your support, consider buying a personalized, engraved brick as a part of Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour’s effort to continue this important work. Farrell’s is building a commemorative brick base around their flagpole that proudly flies a flag with the Firefighters Burn Institute logo.  Click here for details and an on-line application, click the link below.


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