Fighter jet crash started fair on somber note

MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — Unbeknownst to most people touring the Century 21 Exhibition on opening day, an Air Force jet crash took the lives of a couple in their house just across Snohomish-King county line from Mountlake Terrace.

Firefighters from south Snohomish County helped put out the blaze that killed Raymond Smith, 68, and his wife Lillian, 63.

According to the Everett Daily Herald, fighter pilot Capt. Joseph Wildt, 33, of Cincinnati, performed in formation with nine other Paine Field-based jets in an opening ceremony flyover above the fairgrounds in Seattle.

Just as they finished, the engine failed on Wildt’s Convair F-102 Delta Dagger. He broke formation and attempted to ditch the plane in Lake Washington. Wildt nosed the plane toward the water, but when he ejected the jet nosed upward again and began a long gliding dive toward Mountlake Terrace.

Herald reporter Don Davis talked with witnesses who said the jet hit a power pole, which then spun it into the Smith home and other houses.

Raymond Smith was reportedly asleep on the couch and his wife was in the bathroom. They died instantly, Davis reported.

Herald photographer Ken Knudson, on assignment to record the aerial salute to the fair, watched in horror from above as he flew with one of the other pilots. He witnessed the crash.

“I’ve never been so scared in my life. I could feel the heat from the fire,” Knudson wrote in a brief story on April 23, 1962, that accompanied his photo of the tragic crash. “I had color film in my Speed Graphic camera ready for some aerials of the fairground and Paine Field. I had no time to change film, just time to shoot quick.”

Because he could not process the color film in the Herald’s darkroom, Knudson’s photo ran in the newspaper two days later.

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