DANVILLE -- The fiery Pacific Air Lines crash that claimed the lives of 44 people just east of San Ramon on May 7, 1964, made aviation history and left a lasting impact on the industry.
"It was such a global event that it made headlines around the world," said Julie Clark, daughter of Capt. Ernie Clark, the pilot flying the Fairchild F-27 from Reno to San Francisco when it nose-dived into a hillside off Camino Tassajara.
But for the Town of Danville, it took on personal meaning as local residents helped in the aftermath. The event and its town connection will be explored in an upcoming Museum of the San Ramon Valley exhibit, "Mystery in the Sky: The Crash of Flight 773," that will run from the end of December through Jan. 26.
"A lot of people were touched by that crash," said Jerry Warren, exhibit chairman.
Fifty years ago, Danville was a town of 13,000, the largest community south of Concord in what is now the Interstate 680 corridor. Following the crash -- in which a Life Magazine photo caption explained "the violent explosion shattered both plane and bodies, making evidence scarce" -- Danville became a hotbed of activity as Civil Aeronautics Board investigators, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, media and relatives of the deceased convened on the site.
Warren said local clergy provided counsel to the grieving. Meanwhile, the authorities used the San Ramon Valley Chapel -- now the site of the Law Offices of Gagen and McCoy -- to handle funeral arrangements and turned the Grange Hall upstairs at the Village Theatre into a makeshift morgue.
The exhibit will feature a collection of newspaper clippings, artifacts and records that have never been displayed in such a fashion. Julie Clark, who provided a large portion of the historical documentation for the exhibit, will speak at 7 p.m. Jan. 8.
Clark was a teenager when she and her sisters were orphaned after the crash that claimed her father, 52, a former World War II Army pilot who was filling in for an ill colleague on that fateful day. Nevertheless, she followed in his footsteps, becoming a celebrated longtime air show pilot and commercial pilot who retired from Northwest Airlines in 2004.
Clark said she will address aviation safety changes that occurred in the wake of Flight 773, including the Federal Aviation Administration regulation requiring the locking of cockpit doors.
On the 50th anniversary of the crash, the Role Players Ensemble will perform a play called "Tassajara 1964." Eric Fraisher Hayes, the ensemble's artistic director who is penning a more comprehensive version of the piece performed last month at the 100th anniversary of the Village Theatre, said although the story is a tragedy, there are many interesting elements that will be fleshed out.
"In a longer form, I'm much more interested in hearing from the people involved in this and bringing out some of the human stories," he said.
On his agenda is a trip to Stockton, where the plane made a scheduled stop and some passengers deplaned while others came aboard only to perish a short time later.
What: "Mystery in the Sky: The Crash of Flight 773" exhibit
When: 1-4 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 3 p.m. Sundays from Tuesday through Jan. 26
Where: Museum of the San Ramon Valley, 205 Railroad Ave., Danville
Cost: $1 for Crash mini exhibit. Museum regular admission free to members; families, $5; adults, $3; children, $1; and students, $2