Today – The 27th Anniversary of the Tragic Plane Crash at the Sunvalley Mall

December 23, 2012 10:53 am · 44 comments

27-years-ago today, a twin-engine Beechcraft Baron slammed into Concord’s Sunvalley Mall, killing the pilot, two passengers and four people on the ground. The crash also seriously injured and burned close to 100 Christmas shoppers in the crowded mall.

Killed in the plane was the pilot, James Graham, 67, of Oakland, and his passengers, 23-year-old Brian Oliver and 48-year-old John Lewis.

In the mall, those who died were 22-year-old Pamela Stanford, 49-year-old Chandrika Shah, 45-year-old Patricia Larson and 14-month-old Alexander Luong, of Concord.

Our condolences go out to the friends & families of those who lost their lives or were injured that night.

Do you remember the crash, and if so, where were you when it happened?


chevymn2001 December 23, 2012 at 11:01 AM

I was only 8 but remember it well as my older sister was in an elevator when the plane hit

dilligafman December 23, 2012 at 11:09 AM

i remember it all to much. my girlfriend was there and i hoped she was o k.
she had left there before the plane hit but i didn’t know that for a couple of hours later.

Dorothy December 23, 2012 at 11:17 AM

I remember it. My sister-in-law had relatives from Napa shopping at the mall that day who were part of the injured.

Indeed December 23, 2012 at 11:42 AM

I remember it well. If not for the hand of God and a twist of circumstances, my beloved daughter would have been at work at the JC Penny entrance to the mall at the time…

Anon December 23, 2012 at 11:44 AM

I was working at Mt. Diablo Hospital. We all got called in to help with the disaster and burn victims. So sad.

ian December 23, 2012 at 11:48 AM

I was at the mall at the time of the crash. Im actually on my way back down there in just a few mins. Hope history does not repeat its self!!!

Let's see.... December 23, 2012 at 12:12 PM

i was a little kid back then, 2 years old, however i remember playing little league baseball with one of the burn victims

Triple Canopy December 23, 2012 at 12:39 PM

I was there with my GF. We were upstairs approaching the escalator in front of Sears. We heard the boom, turned around, and there was a big ol’ fireball near the ceiling. We watched in awe as it slowly dissipated… then we got the hell outta there because there were a kajillion people running towards us trying to do the same.

TIME December 23, 2012 at 12:46 PM

Every time I go to the mall when I am in the center by Macy’s I think about this tragedy. I remember walking through a wood tunnel for a long time while they repaired the mall. I wish the mall had some sort of memorial for the victims.

Kylie December 23, 2012 at 1:16 PM

It really upsets me that the mall doesn’t acknowledge it at all. 7 people died that day and there’s not even a plaque when there’s plenty of room. My mom drove by it after it happened and she said she saw a lot of blood on the ground and smoke.

The Kabitser December 23, 2012 at 1:39 PM

The fog that night was the worst I had ever seen. I lived on a ranch in Clayton and I could not see my grove of trees 75 feet from my front door.

Bunny December 23, 2012 at 1:47 PM

I remember this well. A fellow Telephone Co. worker was there and couldn’t leave because her car was blocked in by the emergency vehicles. Say a prayer for all of us for this.

Local Gal December 23, 2012 at 1:54 PM

I was working off Diamond Blvd at Handyman Hardware Store and we heard all the fire and police sirens, we had no idea what had happened but we knew it was something horrible. Then customers came in and said the roads were closed and a plane had crashed into the mall. It was such a sad night, we all wrapped up work and headed home very lucky to be safe. I went by the mall a day or two later and the wreckage of the pane was still on top where it had crashed while they investigated it. I always think of the people who died there- The mall made such an effort to remodel and change its look but those of us who know the mall from that year know exactly where the event happened. It would be a nice thought if there was a plaque to remember the victims.

nytemuvr December 23, 2012 at 2:05 PM

I was waiting at the light to get on to Willow Pass(when had just been to Spencer Gifts) and said to my girlfriend that the plane was really low, didn’t think much about it until it hit. That vision will always stick with me, I was 30 years old and think about it each time I drive by SV Mall still.

Mike troll December 23, 2012 at 2:16 PM

man it was intense we were down in that sausage/cheese place by JCP when it hit i thought a bomb had gone off with all the smoke n dust and people running, i can remember seeing some guy standing out in the mall way waving his hands yelling dont run dont run then he went down as the crowd of panicked people trampled over him ill never forget it

Greg December 23, 2012 at 2:16 PM

We lived behind the furniture store (I think it was the Gap at the time) across the street on Santa Cruz Dr. I don’t remember hearing the crash itself, but we heard all the sirens and turned on the news to see what had happened.

Mike troll December 23, 2012 at 2:17 PM

oh here you might want to put these in that sentence i just wrote so you arnt so confused. … ,,, !

another local December 23, 2012 at 2:36 PM

We were in Texas visiting family and were horrified to hear our hometown and the mall on the national radio news.

Sar Casm December 23, 2012 at 2:38 PM

My brother and I were playing pool at the Great Entertainer that night. On our way home we could see emergency vehicles at the mall from our drive on the freeway. When we got home, our Mom told us to call our friends that had been calling the house that night. My late wife was in the mall when it happened. She was 3 or 4 stores away from Macy’s, headed in the direction of JC Penney when there was a big boom and all hell broke loose. It took a long time for her to go back into that mall.

anonononon December 23, 2012 at 3:24 PM

was at the bottom of the escalator and saw the fireball and felt the heat. Ducked behind a pillar infront of Denim and Diamonds. Thought about going up the escalator to help but instead went out the exit corridor right there. Good thing because I read later that I would have walked right into a rain of burning fuel. Condolences.

Em Dubya December 23, 2012 at 3:26 PM

My girlfriend was shopping at the perfume counter just inside Macy’s across from the crash. Thankfully she wasn’t injured but that night she called me and recounted the entire event; it was harrowing.

Our family friend was a city official and he showed us photos of the scene (before Internet, cell phone cameras, etc.) which were almost nonexistent in those days. Strangely my mom was called for jury duty on this legal case and was excused because we had seen the investigation photos.

medic December 23, 2012 at 3:35 PM

just moved to california a month before idid some shopping for my girl who is my current wife
i bought her some gifts and ran out to the car to hide them
i had parked allthe out at lot near the freeway and the mall was jammed packed it was an intense foggy night i recall i starfed on foot back towards the center of mall where leads shoes used to be when i started hearing a plane overhead but could not see do to fog
it didnt sound right and just as i thought that i started hearing the plane decending downward fast i didnt see it but new something bad was about to happen u can tell without seeing it was spinning down and fast
at this point im about 60 feet from center door and finally about 75 yards above my head the plane appeared and one second later crashed above the mall i said that cant happen no no no iran in fast but security stoppedme from entering said its bad cant let u in and then this lady came out shoes melted to herskin it seemed and begged me to help she was holding ayoung child who wasnt breathing we were both in shock

its hard to write this as i go on im sorry

Hope December 23, 2012 at 3:40 PM

My mom worked at JCP back then. I was at work at the Wherehouse in Pleasant Hill and my co-worker Eric had left work for the mall with his friend Scott just 30 mins or so before we got word the plane hit. They were there but all were safe. No cell phones back then so it took a long time before we knew they were safe.

anita hinds December 23, 2012 at 4:53 PM

I was a nurse at Los Medanos Hospital, I was part of the stand by team to go on site, I was told to get an IV pole and be ready to go.. We never had to go. It was a very sad night.

Anon December 23, 2012 at 5:48 PM

The mall will never put up anything that could be considered negative. They are big business and they think that would be bad


Calendar Girl December 23, 2012 at 5:57 PM

I’m sorry, but wasn’t a 14 year old boy also killed? As I recall, he was still up in the burning plane, yelling for help. I think he was from the Oliver family. So sad. The plane was stuck in the roof over Macy’s for several days after and it was surreal to drive over there and see the wing sticking up from the roof over Macy’s. Terrible.

Craig Cannon December 23, 2012 at 6:46 PM

I covered that very sad story for INN News. That was the Independent News Network, back then. I was there not long after the Third Alarm, and Ambulances were loading victims in front of Macy’s on the CCB side. I walked into the open Mall through the doors by the Ice Rink. An acrid Grey haze lay along the ceiling, all the way to Penny’s, and no one was around. Even a “Lightly Seasoned” TV Photo Journalist sensed this was no the place to be, so I went out the back doors-to see what was happening on the Freeway Side. That’s where I first came upon the signature “Tail” peaking out over the roofline. On the Lower Level, looking through the East Entrance, I could see the burned and steaming reason I did not stay inside. No one need see pictures of what I saw inside, and I opted for the Ambulance, Tail, and Vague Mall Pictures, talked to folks, and stayed the heck out of the way. It was just before Christmas, the most wonderful day of the year. Kids, Families, Santa. I hope these Recreational Pilots have if anything, learned from their Friends loss, and ours. I still have the video. I’d share it, but I don’t have anything that plays Broadcast Betacam any longer.

Danielle Evangelista December 23, 2012 at 6:57 PM

Hi, my name is Danielle. I was nine years old when this happened. Unfortunately, I was there that night and was badly injured. 27 years later, I too can remember minute by minute of what happened, and the after math of it all. I thank for always paying tribute to ‘The Sun Valley Mall Crash’, as I know Sun Valley Mall will never put up any type of memorial for the lives that were lost that night.

I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

ChampagneKitty December 23, 2012 at 7:23 PM

I understand the mall wants happy shoppers, but out of respect for the community, I agree that a plaque should be put up.

Dennis December 23, 2012 at 7:41 PM

me too! hey, her name wasn’t Annie, was it?

(I was in the parking lot outside J C Penny, but had my head up my … uh … I was shuffling gifts in the trunk of my car when the plane came down.)

Getting inside to help was nearly impossible due to all those trying to get out. First responders did an excellent job.

mamatosix85 December 23, 2012 at 8:27 PM

Bless you Danielle!
I think about that night every time I walk past Macy’s as well. My first child was 3 months old. I remember holding him so tight and crying as the news come on about this. And praying to God that my friends mom was not in there at the time, which she was not.
Pray for all of you every time I think of it. Please know that many of us remember that fateful night.
Much love to you.

Living in Claycord December 23, 2012 at 9:40 PM

I had just finished my Christmas shopping at Crabtree and Evelyn (down by Sears end of the mall) and was in my car trying to get out of the parking lot when I heard the crash. First instinct was to go back and see what happened. But I figured it was pretty bad if it mad that much noise and did not want to be in the way of the first responders.

Craig Cannon December 23, 2012 at 11:27 PM

I’m truly surprised that Sunvalley Mall Management did not let someone place a memorial nearby. Perhaps they were not approached, and maybe should be again, as times and people have changed. Then again, they are a business, and probably wish to put forward happy thoughts. Danielle is correct. This is a nice tribute to all those affected by the tragedy, and a chance for those of us who were not hurt, but equally as traumatized watching our fellow Claycordians in peril, to share our experiences of that night. Danielle, thanks so much for sharing with us. I can only imagine what you have had to endure. God Bless.

franie December 24, 2012 at 12:05 AM

I was almost 3. My mom was taking me there to go shopping at macys and have pics with santa. She got into the macys parking lot and decided she needed to go back home, shee said she had a bad feeling. A little bit after getting home it was on the news.

crazytech58 December 24, 2012 at 12:26 AM

My wife and I were driving back from visiting family up north, worst drive of my life, highway 5 from the oregon border was pea soup, and heard about it on the radio. We live in concord, and only to our horror, we found out the next day that Jim Graham was the pilot, knew him personally, he was part of the aviation family that taught many people to fly, is still hard to fathom this tragedy, as he flew in and out of Buchanon Airport on almost a daily basis. Sadness and Condolence’s for everyone involved in this horrible event.

RJ December 24, 2012 at 12:47 AM

The overnight mall security once told me that the ghosts of the victims have been heard in that area during the late hours. Definitely the young child who died.

27 years later December 24, 2012 at 3:55 AM

We had just moved to California and had spent the day unpacking when my dad asked if we (my brother, sister and me) wanted to go to the mall to help him find a present for my mom. I was so excited because I had never been to a Macy’s. After shopping for a bit my dad wanted to leave but we still hadn’t gone to Macy’s. He and I argued about going to Macy’s…he won and we left the mall. I remember as we left the mall the fog was very thick and hard to see the road in front of us. By the time we got home my mom was frantic because it was all over the TV that a plane had crashed into the mall and she didn’t know if we were okay.

Dude December 24, 2012 at 4:59 AM

I was there the day before the crash. I’m very interested in seeing more photos of the mall at that time. I remember a whole lot of wood paneling. And a fountian, I think.

MeryH December 24, 2012 at 6:53 AM

My mom and daughters had just gotten out of the movies there at SV mall and I believe it was 101 Dalmations? They had been out of the mall about 15 minutes when the plane crashed. The rest of the family was at the house and waiting for them to get home for dinner. All of the relatives were over for a early Christmas dinner. We heard about the plane crash on the news and we were scared at first because we didn’t know if mom and the girls made it out ok from the movies. They came through the door a few minutes later. We were lucky, but others were not. I still think about the people who lost loved ones and how lives changed in an instant for them.
Also found out the next day that a guy I worked with was there in line for Santa with his family and his little one received major burns.

Scoob December 24, 2012 at 7:56 AM

Thank you for posting Danielle. I always remember those who were injured that day. My schoolmate Wendy was severely burned and her cousin was killed. I saw Wendy in a bar several years later and although she was scarred, she was still the most beautiful woman in Concord. Her lovely smile, radiant personality and terrific charisma shined right through those scars. I will always remember her in her “foxy” shirt in sixth grade at Monte Gardens. I haven’t seen her in twenty years or so, but I always think of her when I walk through the Mall and when I see these tributes. God bless you and all the other victims that suffered that tragic day. Merry Christmas to all.

Back in the day December 24, 2012 at 8:18 AM

I was there the day before shopping. In fact I was always there… I was a teenager. The mall was my second home! I remember seeing the plane on the roof the day after and walking the mall during reconstruction, it was surreal. As I recall, the Christmas tree went up in flames too. I find it very odd now that I think about it. There is no memorial.. Not cool Sun Valley

Cowellian December 24, 2012 at 8:24 AM
TIME December 24, 2012 at 9:39 AM

Mr. Mayor I wonder if we could start a petition on Claycord to try to get the Mall to place even a small plaque at the site of the crash to remember the victims. Anyone who lives in this area remembers this crash. It doesn’t stop people from shopping it’s about remembering. I’m sure in the beginning they didn’t want to do anything for fear of lawsuits but enough time has passed now.

rw December 24, 2012 at 8:49 PM

I went to Sunvalley that night to do some last-minute shopping. As I remember the first responding fire trucks were pulling into the parking lot right behind me. I didn’t know what had happened and went into Sears where I normally enter the mall from. Sears was deserted and that seemed strange. The enormity of this event would become evident when I got to where Sears opens into the mall and you could clearly see the dense black smoke midway down along with many people running towards Sears.

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