The History of the Encinal Jet
In honor of former Encinal High School (EHS) Principal Frank Hanna’s passing, (see Local Deaths below) the Alameda Sun has chosen to retell the story of how a former Navy jet came to be posted in front of the school during his tenure.
In May 1984 a crowd gathered in front of EHS to celebrate the arrival of an A-4 Skyhawk jet. They looked on as workers backed the jet onto the lawn in front of the school. The aircraft had served the Marine Corps in Vietnam and in 1974 fell victim to a fire while in midair over San Francisco Bay.
When the Marines discovered that they could not repair the aircraft after the fire they assigned it to the Navy-Marine Corps and Coast Guard Museum at the Naval Air Station at Treasure Island. The Skyhawk remained there for seven years, until 1984, when EHS sophomore, Michelle Sechrist learned that the military was looking for a new home for the plane. Sechrist’s father was a Marine and she thought that her school should adopt the Skyhawk.
The museum agreed and donated the plane to EHS. The Navy hooked the jet to one of its helicopters and "towed" the plane to its new home. Many remember the helicopter flying underneath the bridge with its package. Councilman Tony Daysog was senior class president when the jet arrived on the school’s campus.
The Skyhawk stood proud, but was aging, much the worse for wear and pranks and graffiti, when Bill Sonneman stepped in as the school’s principal in 2002. He promised to rejuvenate Encinal’s venerable symbol and was as good as his word. Workers removed the plane from its pedestal and rolled the aircraft out to Alameda Point where American Bus Repair breathed new life into the aircraft.
Controversy arose, however, when it came time to bring the plane home. EHS computer teacher Carlos Zialcita initiated a drive against ever seeing the Skyhawk on the school’s campus again.
He said that plane no longer characterized what Alameda had become five years after the Naval Air Station had closed. "I would see it as sort of a leftover from a previous era," Zialcita said.
David Olstad, who volunteered at the school took things to the boiling point. "I’d just as soon see a .357 Magnum blown up and put on a pedestal," he said of the school’s now-restored mascot. "I mean, there’s no difference to me. It’s glorifying violence."
Zialcita and Olstad spoke for a group of fewer than 20 activists, who lobbied the school to relocate the Skyhawk to the old Navy base. They managed to gather 400 signatures to support their cause.
Sonneman saw things otherwise and vowed that he would see to it that the plane would return. "It was the right thing to do," he said.
He got his way (principals usually do) and a motorcycle police escort accompanied the Skyhawk back to EHS where it remains today.