Epic crash occurred 30 years ago

Thirty years ago this week a tragedy occurred at the Hillsboro airport that is permanently etched in the minds of those who were living here at the time, including mine.

It was Tuesday, June 20, 1978, when Hillsboro businessman and pilot Paul Rundstrom, 40, and his passengers Dennis Klassen and Blaine Briggs of Hillsboro Industries and Hillsboro Distributors crashed into a wheat field shortly after 8 a.m. just south of the hedge row opening at the then grass airstrip.

All three men survived the impact, but fire burned each of them severely. There were reports of 85 percent to 100 percent burns on each of the victims.

All three were brought to Salem Hospital, then transferred later that morning by Fort Riley medical helicopter to the KU Medical Center burn unit. Rundstrom died early that evening and the other two men died of their burns days and weeks later.


We had moved back to Hillsboro about a year before the accident and were just getting to know people in town. I was in my early 30s at the time and was trying to find my way as a business person and young adult. Paul had demonstrated leadership to me and that he was willing to get involved in the fabric of the community. I wished to be around someone like that.

We had some things in common in that our children were about the same age and we were invited to the Rundstrom house for dinner either the night of the accident or maybe the next night. Obviously, that next step of friendship never took place.


I went to the Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies at Tabor College last week to read the coverage of the events of that day as reported in the June 21, 1978, edition of the Hillsboro Star-Journal. At that time Don and Phyllis Wipf were in charge of the paper and I was in charge of layout. Looking at it now, their coverage of this tragic event would rival anything a large news organization could have done.

We are fortunate to have a tremendous resource like CMBS in our community, where a wealth of information can be found.


There are many signs of growth and activity around town these days: The former McDonalds building is starting to look a lot like a Wendy?s?and there have been sightings of construction workers with Wendy?s logos on their shirts. There is a new banner on the former Tippin building on North Main. In Hillsboro Heights, Rod?s Tire has a really big building erected on the west side of their lot and Elcon?s new location is really taking shape. Plus, there is a new duplex going up in Park Village.


For Father?s Day I got to do anything I wanted, so we went to see what a Wingnut looks like. Others from Hillsboro did too, including Dan Suderman and his family, whose photo made it into the Monday Wichita Eagle.


We left at the ?Seventh-Inning Stretch? to go eat and found a place to watch the end of the U.S. Open. We finished eating right when Tiger made his long putt to tie.

Thinking we would stay for the playoff and not knowing it was an 18-hole playoff the next day, we ordered some dessert to hang around for the playoff that never happened.

Ignorance is not bliss.

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