For San Diegan Michael Bagnas, Sept. 25, 1978, is a date forever etched in his mind. It’s the day he witnessed PSA Flight 182 collide midair with a single-engine Cessna over San Diego’s North Park community, causing the deadliest aircraft disaster to date in California’s history.
“It was in slow motion. I remember turning around and looking and saying, ‘It looks like they’re filming a movie,’ because you couldn’t believe what you were seeing was for real,” Bagnas told NBC 7 on Tuesday, recalling the deadly, unforgettable crash.
The reality is that 144 people lost their lives in that horrific aircraft collision – 135 people onboard PSA Flight 182, two men on the Cessna and seven people on the ground. A total of 22 homes in the surrounding North Park area were destroyed or damaged.
The wreckage came to rest along Dwight and Nile streets.
San Diego resident Myrna Pelowski’s 18-year-old brother, Michael Sulit, was on board Flight 182 and died in the disaster. She said the shock of losing her brother was overwhelming.
"I still didn’t believe it was real because I’d just seen him that morning," she recalled.
Thirty-five years after the disaster, the closest memorial to the crash site is a plaque beneath a tree at the North Park library.
However, Bagnas and Pelowski hope to change that.
The two are part of the PSA Flight 182 committee that’s proposing a new, privately-funded memorial a block from the crash site, at the intersection of Boundary and Felton streets.
For Pelowski, having a new memorial in North Park will help her keep the memory of her brother alive.
“I feel this is a place I can be close to him, here, and I feel that would be the same feeling for others,” she said.
Bagnas also believes the memorial is an important way to pay tribute to the 144 lives lost in the tragedy – and to never forget.
“It’s was too tragic of a day, too much history to be forgotten with that many souls,” said Bagnas.
An informational meeting on the proposed memorial is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at St. Patrick’s Church at 3585 30th St. in North Park. The PSA Flight 182 committee is hoping to use the meeting to get input, ideas and concerns on the memorial from community members.
Last September, during the 35th anniversary of the deadly disaster, San Diegans gathered near the crash site and set up a makeshift memorial that included candles, flowers, newspaper clippings from 1978 and photos of the victims killed in the plane crash. The names of the victims were etched in chalk along the sidewalk.