Five Tragic Moments in San Diego History

5 tragic moments san diego history
“WendtPSA” by hans Wendt Licensed under Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of PSA Flight 182 via

This Tragic San Diego list is not meant to be all encompassing or to invalidate other tragedies that made San Diego local or National headlines. The loss of life and material destruction are not trivial events. The purpose of this article is to remember and honor the fallen for future posterity.

Editor San Diego Haunted

Tragic Boiler Explosion on board the USS Bennington, 21 July 1905:

NH 85698 USS Bennington Mass Burial 1905 Fair Use
NH 85698 USS Bennington Mass Burial 1905 Fair Use

The USS Bennington (Gunboat # 4) pulled into the San Diego Harbor on July 19, 1905. The ship moored just north of (present day) Seaport Village. The crew, was already spent from a difficult 17 day voyage from the Hawaiian islands. The crew recieved orders to go back to sea with very little rest. Upon preparing to leave for the new mission to help tow the monitor Wyoming, a catastrophic event took place. As steam was being raised an improperly closed steam line valve, and a faulty safety valve, caused one of the boilers to exceed tolerance. The boiler exploded much like a bomb, and released scalding steam throughout the ship. The USS Bennington did not sink due to the effort of the tug boat Santa Fe’s crew. The Bennington was not salvageable. 60 members of the Bennington crew died either outright or as a result of injuries

Tragic San Diego The big flood of 1916, and the Rain Maker:

The San Diego local river runoff had been below normal for a period of four years prior to the Great flood of 1916. Many locals feared a drought was soon to follow due to low rainfall totals. A recomendation from a real estate agent named F. A. Binney and the Wide Awake Improvement Club, requested that Charles M. Hatfield should be employed to produce rain.

Hatfield had already established the belief by residents that he could produce rain in Los Angeles north through the Central Valleys of California and in the wheat fields of Oregon, Montana and Alberta, Canada. Ultimately, Hatfield began the lackluster process of producing rain, using unknown chemicals and other means. He concluded he could pull moisture from the air itself and harness it.

Half a century later the weather studies of January, 1916 (compiled through the Army) so indicated that at that time the low pressure area over Southern California had sucked in four separate air masses. As these masses were pulled together, air of different temperatures was brought together along their edges, or fronts, creating a “pinwheel” figure on weather maps, a condition which causes heavy rains. Hatfield’s experiments were not likely the reason for the great rain of 1916.

Massive flooding and dam failures caused millions of dollars worth of damage. San Diego received nearly three times the average rainfall vs the same time in previous years. At least sixteen people lost their lives because of flooding. As a result the City did not pay Hatfield.

Tragic Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) Flight 182 Crash of 1978:

PSA Flight 182 was returning from Los Angeles on route to San Diego’s Lindbergh Field. In flight above San Diego the Boeing 727-214 struck a Cessna 172. The accident was a result from the pilot and ATC tower controller. Between 09:01:45 and 09:02:04 about 20 seconds from time of collision PSA flight 182 crashed into the San Diego Community of North Park.

The plane impacted just west of the I-805 freeway, approximately nine meters (30 feet) north of the intersection of Dwight and Nile streets, with the bulk of the debris field spreading in a northeast to southwesterly direction towards Boundary Street. One of the plane’s wings lodged in a house. The coordinates of the Boeing crash site are 32°44′37″N 117°07′14″W Coordinates: 32°44′37″N 117°07′14″W. In total, 144 people perished in the disaster, including Flight 182’s seven crew members, 30 additional PSA employees, two Cessna occupants, and seven residents (five women, two male children) on the ground.

Tragic San Diego Cleveland Elementary School shooting

A 16-year-old girl, Brenda Spencer (born April 3, 1962), who lived in a home across the street from Cleveland Elementary School (San Carlos), went on a shooting spree. On the morning of Monday, January 29, 1979, Spencer began shooting from her San Diego home at children who were waiting outside Cleveland Elementary School. She injured eight children. The school principal tried to help the children. The shooting spree ended with the murder of the principal and a school custodian.

A reporter got through to Spencer after the shooting ended. He said Spencer told him she carried out the shooting because she “didn’t like Mondays”. Spencer did plead guilty. She is serving an indefinite sentence in prison.

Tragic San Ysidro McDonald’s massacre

The San Ysidro McDonald’s massacre was a mass shooting that occurred in and around the area of a McDonald’s restaurant in the San Diego neighborhood of San Ysidro on July 18, 1984. The perpetrator, was 41-year-old James Huberty, who shot and killed 21 people, including five children. In total 19 other people were injured as a result of Huberty. A SWAT team sniper killed Huberty. The sordid and painful details-testimony’s from the massacre survivors, are difficult if not unimaginable by any sane person’s standards. Huberty fired 257 rounds of ammunition, killing 20 people and wounding 20 others. Of the victims seventeen in the restaurant. Four additional victims were in the immediate vicinity of the restaurant. Huberty killed indiscriminately of age or race.

One thought on “Five Tragic Moments in San Diego History

  1. Staff photographer Hans Wendt of the San Diego County Public Relations Office was attending an outdoor press event with a still camera, and was able to take two postcollision photographs of the falling 727, its right wing burning.

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