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Point Loma man recalls missing doomed PSA Flight 182 that crashed in San Diego

Rubble from homes and wreckage from PSA Flight 182 are strewn on Dwight Street in San Diego on Sept. 25, 1978.
Rubble from homes and wreckage from PSA Flight 182 are strewn on Dwight Street after the jet and a Cessna collided over North Park on Sept. 25, 1978.
(Joe Holly / San Diego Union-Tribune file photo)

It’s been 44 years since the collision of PSA Flight 182 with a single-engine Cessna over North Park took the lives of 144 people and devastated hundreds more in 1978.

On each Sept. 25 anniversary, mourners gather to place 144 flowers and write the names of the victims in chalk along the sidewalk by a bronze memorial bearing their names at Dwight and Nile streets.

Among the visitors are James “Himi” Newman, who bears a different burden. He lived. By some quirk of fate, or divine intervention, he missed his ticketed flight that day.

At the time, Newman, who now lives in Point Loma, was a junior at San Diego State University majoring in marketing. He had made a quick trip home to Los Angeles to attend a family picnic that weekend and was slated to return on the ill-fated PSA Flight 182 on Monday morning (the flight originated in Sacramento, with a stop in L.A.).

James "Himi" Newman wears his memorial PSA shirt in observance of the anniversary of the Sept. 25, 1978, plane crash.
James “Himi” Newman of Point Loma wears his memorial PSA shirt in observance of the anniversary of the Sept. 25, 1978, plane crash.
(Provided by James Newman)

His father, who managed travel agencies, dropped him at the L.A. airport that morning, but traffic was heavy. By the time Newman made it to the gate, airline personnel were closing the passenger door and refused to let him board. He was told to take the next flight.

Newman had no idea until much later that his parents thought he had gone down with the plane and were frantically calling the airline and his friends for information. He had locked his car key in his vehicle at the San Diego airport and hitchhiked to a bus stop to get to his apartment in Mission Beach.

En route home he saw a column of smoke in the distance, and someone told him they heard a PSA plane had crashed. But it wasn’t until he got home and phoned a friend that he learned his parents were trying to track him down.

“I called my parents and they were crying. They assumed I was on the flight and had perished,” he recalled.

San Diego State’s Daily Aztec newspaper included a front-page story on Sept. 26, 1978, headlined, “Missed flight by minutes,” about Newman having had the good fortune of being delayed by L.A. traffic congestion that day.

Newman says his close call with death affects him more today than it did back then. “I knew it was one of my nine lives,” he said. “I was grateful but not afraid to fly.”

Now, however, like Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” he thinks of what he would have missed had he died. He never would have married his wife, Joanne, a watercolor artist. And he looks at his two adult children, both married, and his preschooler grandchild, who wouldn’t be alive if he had made the flight that day. He reminded them just the other day about the intervention of fate.

Newman still has a PSA schedule listing Flight 182, and he occasionally wears the PSA T-shirt (he calls it his memorial shirt) that he bought during the 40th-anniversary observance at the North Park crash site.

— Point Loma-OB Monthly staff contributed to this report.


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