Deadly local plane crash basis for local author’s novella/short story collection

Bonnie ZoBell. Photo by Elsa

To Bonnie ZoBell, North Park is home. It’s also the site of the deadliest plane crash in California history.

With her house just feet away from the site, it’s no wonder the tragic history of the neighborhood serves as the backdrop of ZoBell’s “What Happened Here,” a linked novella and story collection. Although the 1978 crash is history, its legacy seeps in the stories of her cast of characters.

“The stories are linked because they’re all in the same North Park neighborhood and they all have a little bit to do with the crash,” ZoBell said.

Although ZoBell grew up in Del Mar, her connection to the crash isn’t new. She lived in North Park when the midair collision between a single-engine Cessna and a Boeing 727 airliner occurred Sept. 25, 1978.

A total of 144 people died, including the 135 passengers and crew on the jet, two passengers on the private plane and seven people on the ground.

“I remember I was going to school in the morning and I came out and the whole sky was just filled with black smoke,” recalled ZoBell, who at the time, was studying at San Diego State University. “I found out what had happened. It was pretty shocking.”

ZoBell went on to earn a bachelor’s in English at SDSU and a MFA at Columbia University. She has since taught at San Diego Mesa College for 30 years, where she currently serves as the creative writing coordinator, and previously published a pamphlet called, “The Whack-Job Girls.”

But ZoBell has never forgotten the crash. In fact, her interest in the incident led to her first full collection of stories.

“I’ve always been very interested in the crash and then I ended up moving into the house I’m at now,” she said. “It’s just over my back fence, so I’ve learned more about it. I ended up putting it in a story I was writing. Then it just came together.”

ZoBell will read from her book and sign copies during an appearance at the Del Mar Library May 27. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. at the library, located at 1309 Camino del Mar.

“The theme of the book is about how you have to go on, no matter what happens — despite airplanes falling out of the sky,” ZoBell said. “You have to decide what you want in life and try to get it.”

“What Happened Here” is available on Amazon, IndieBound and Press 53.

For more about the event, call 858-755-1666 or visit