Tuesday, August 30, 2011
A Memorial For A 1979 Aviation Disaster
On May 25, 1979, American Airlines flight 191 bound for Los Angeles, lost an engine shortly after takeoff, and crashed in a field near O'Hare Airport. All 258 passengers and 13 crew members, plus two on the ground, were killed.
It remains the deadliest aviation accident ever to occur on United States soil.
I remember driving my sister to a job interview that afternoon. The office was near O'Hare Airport, not far from our parents' house. I decided to wait in the car while she was interviewed. The office was near a large construction site, where an enormous mound of gravel had been deposited. There was no view around it, only of the sky above it. (The interview later proved successful; my sister got her summer job.)
All of a sudden I saw a flame rise from beyond the gravel mound. At first it appeared as though someone's barbecue grill had simply flared up; but as soon as I re-gained perspective, and saw how the flame, and the black smoke, kept leaping into the air, I knew that it was some kind of enormous fire. Later, when we heard the news of the crash, I was rendered speechless by the stories of the rescuers' inability to find anything but the charred remains of the people on board, scattered across the field..
32 years later, on October 15, a memorial will be erected in the city of Des Plaines, close to O'Hare, to commemorate those lost in the tragic accident.
The memorial was made possible by the efforts of a group of sixth-graders from Decatur Classical School in the north side neighborhood of West Rogers Park. Their principal, Kim Jockl, lost her parents on the flight as they were embarking on a second honeymoon to Hawaii. The students, inspired by Jockl's story and unhappy that the survivors never received a sense of closure for their grief, began a campaign of calls and letters to politicians, the FAA, American Airlines, and victims' families.
(See the full story in the Chicago Tribune HERE)
The memorial will consist of a 2-foot high curved wall, with the names of the deceased carved into it, and surrounded by a red maple and other plants. American Airlines paid $21,500 for the cost of the memorial.