The third annual Golden West Sport Aviation Air Show at Executive Airport in Sacramento was winding down. The planes that performed at the event were beginning their taxi routes to fly out. The column of airplanes was long, too long for pilot Richard Bingham, who voiced his complaint to the control tower. Bingham was piloting a Korean War-era F-86 Sabrejet, a fuel-guzzling and temperamental plane, one of the first combat jet aircraft in the United States Air Force inventory. The F-86 was a hard-edged aircraft, difficult to control at low altitudes. I routinely stalled if its nose wheel lifted off the ground when taking off at speeds slower than 140 knots.
Bingham decided to take off on the shorter and less crowed runway to save on fuel. He held an air transport pilot’s license – one of the highest-qualified licenses a pilot can have – but he only had twelve hours of flight time in the F-86
The blue and gold single-engine jet rolled down the runway, lifted its nose off the ground, bounced back down, and then lifted off. But the aircraft stalled, lost altitude, and clipped an old levee. The fuel-filled drop tanks ignited, causing a huge fireball. The F-86 bounced, landing on Freeport Boulevard, bounced again, and slid into the corner window of Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor.
Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor was one of the two businesses open in the Crossroads Shopping Center that Sunday afternoon. As many as 100 people, many of them children, were enjoying a refreshing treat when the flaming F-86 slammed into the restaurant.
Twenty-three people, including twelve children, died from multiple causes. The entire Krier family – Warren and Sandra and their two children, Brandon and Jennifer, ages two and eight respectively – died in the inferno. Nine members of another family also died. Twenty-five people were injured.
When the fired department pulled the plane out of the wreckage to look for bodies, they found two automobiles melted together underneath the plane. Inside one of the cars were the bodies of an elderly couple who had been driving on Freeport Boulevard when the Sabrejet bounced on top of their car.
To his credit, pilot Bingham rode the plane down instead of ejecting from the out-of-control and blazing plane. He luckily survived, suffering a broken leg and arm. A passerby pulled him out of his burning aircraft.
Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor is long gone. The new Sacramento police headquarters is now located where the Crossroads Shopping Center once stood. On March 15, 2003, a memorial was dedicated to the victims of one of the worst on-ground air disasters in American history.