OVIEDO, Fla. – In 1962, a Navy plane experienced equipment failure and three crew members on board are credited for navigating the plane away from crashing into a school in Oviedo. It’s a moment in Central Florida history some may not know about.
Jim Jones remembers still remembers that day almost 60 years later.
“It was January 15, 1962,” Jones said.
Jones was 16 years old at the time. He was a junior at the Oviedo School, which served students in first through 12th grade. The school was located where Lawton Elementary is today.
Jones remembers being in English class and looking out the window to see a sight he will never forget.
“Suddenly sitting there in the distance looking out at trees three planes suddenly appear just at treetop level heading straight for the school,” Jones said.
The Oviedo Preservation Project said the plane left the Sanford Naval Air Station and malfunctioned. Two other aircraft confirmed there was an engine failure and flew away to avoid impact.
The plane slowly lost altitude as it headed directly toward the school filled with hundreds of students and teachers.
“The pilot realized he couldn’t clear the top of the school,” Jones said.
A bailout was ordered, but the pilot, Lt. Charles Hodgate, made a decision that saved countless lives. He navigated the plane away from the school and crashed in a nearby field.
“The plane impacted maybe only 50, 70 yards from school property,” Jones said.
Hodgate and two crew members, Petty Officers John W. Bush and Horace Marks, died in the crash. No one at the school was hurt.
Oviedo Mayor Megan Sladek, who also serves as the executive director of the Oviedo Preservation Project, said they are making sure the story of their sacrifice is not forgotten.
“It wasn’t a story that was widely told. Now we’re trying to get it out there,” Sladek said.
The non-profit organization raised $3,000 to build a marker near the crash site. Officials are dedicating the memorial on Saturday to honor Hodgate’s heroic actions and the sacrifices the crew made that day.
“The children of Lt. Hodgate are coming to town for this event and they didn’t know the story of how their dad sacrificed their life to save the kids of the Oviedo School,” Sladek said.
Jones hopes the marker will keep this story alive for future generations. He added, honoring these heroes is long overdue.
“I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for these heroes who did what they did to save the rest of us that day,” Jones said.
The Oviedo Preservation Project is dedicating the marker on Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Lawton House located at 200 W. Broadway Street, Oviedo.
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