‘I’m sorry,’ cried pilot after crash

Originally published Sept. 25, 1972

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” cried Richard Bingham, the 36-year-old pilot whose reconstructed gold, blue and white Korean War F-86 Sabrejet had just plunged into Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour Restaurant.

“Is everybody out?” he demanded delirious.

“I told him not to worry, to get himself out,” said Ron Baker of Sacramento, who went into the burning building after he saw the crash from across the street. “He was really concerned about the other people.”

Baker helped Bingham out through the window of the restaurant.

Felix Mendoza, an employee at Executive Airport across Freeport Boulevard from the restaurant, also assisted Bingham. He first saw the pilot wandering in the building, semiconscious and an arm broken.

Opened Cockpit

David Thorton, who was at a bowling alley down the street shortly before the crash, said a fellow bowler “grabbed a pair of wire-cutters, ran 300 years to the crash site, smashed open the cockpit of the plane and pulled the pilot out.

“When the pilot went in he must have pulled his parachute cord, because he was all tangled up in the parachute, standing next to the plane.”

Mendoza and fellow airport employee Armand Cerano tried to get more people out before the fire became too intense. Mendoza was at the airport when he saw the crash. He jumped in his truck and crashed a perimeter gate to get to Farrell’s parking lot.

Boy Given Hand

Cerano assisted one young boy in a football uniform out of the building. He was about 9 or 10 years old.

“There was one little girl there,” said Mendoza. “It almost broke my heart. Her feet were nearly burned off.”

Mendoza and Cerano were members of a 12-man rescue crew stationed at the airport during the airshow to man rescue vehicles.

Norman G. Coad, airport manager, credited the instant reaction of the team with averting further loss of life and tragedy in the holocaust.

“As soon as they saw what happened, everybody took off,” Coad said.

Locked Gate

He said Mendoza and Cerano, in a pickup truck loaded with bottles of powdered fire retarder, rammed through a locked gate in the chain link fence between the airport runway and Freeport Boulevard to reach the flaming crash scene.

Coad said Horahito Sasamoto and William Hibbard in two trucks carrying foam retarder sped through the hole Mendoza and Cerano battered through the fence.

Eye witnesses said the airport rescue trucks were the first on the scene as city fire department crews were delayed by heavy traffic and hordes of spectators.

“My whole crew got there so quick,” Coad said. “We think they did a hell of a job. You never know what kind of of people you have working for you until you have an emergency like this.”

Mendoza was under intensive care in a hospital today. He reportedly was stricken with a heart seizure and collapsed after he had returned to his home.