On any given day, you’ll find Leo Joubert strolling along Lackey Street, making his way to Theresa Baumann Park.
Once there, he performs his usual task of clearing away debris that has settled on two memorial markers.
He offers a silent prayer, wipes away a tear and thinks back to that fateful day 50 years ago when a plane came crashing into his Riverside neighborhood, striking homes and turning the place into a raging inferno.
The date — June 30, 1964 — is a day well remembered in Haverhill history. Killed instantly in the crash at 19 Lackey St. were Pamela Gifford, 11, and her brother, Todd, 8, children of Mr. and Mrs. Earle Gifford.
Before striking the Gifford home at 12:25 a.m., the jet sliced through a section of another home, demolished five automobiles, damaged two others and set fire to two other homes, all along a 300-foot stretch of Lackey Street.
According to published reports, aviation gasoline spilled from the wrecked aircraft as it headed out of control, smashing everything in its path with flaming fuel before exploding into the Gifford home.
Joubert was watching television inside his at home at 44 Lackey St., awaiting his wife’s arrival from a birthday party. Most residents were either in bed or preparing to retire for the evening when the solitude was jarred. No warning. Panic everywhere.
“I heard this loud ‘whoosh’ sound overhead, then what appeared like an explosion next door,” Joubert recalled. “I ran to the door and the entire street was in flames. It was a frightful sight to behold.”
Joubert grabbed the phone and dialed the operator, calling for help.
“A plane just crashed into my street and hit some houses,” he yelled.
Back outside he went, only to see his wife running up the street screaming, “A plane just crashed!”
“Another few seconds and she could have been killed, along with her friend,” Joubert remembers thinking. “That could have been my house.”