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.

Although Labor Day is coming soon, this time of year is seeming more appropriately like a Memorial Day.  

This poignant story, about a group of young students who undertook a mission to comfort the survivors of a decades-old disaster, and to remember that event and the lives that were lost, was one worth remembering.  I wanted to make sure I did my small part to ensure that these students, not to mention the victims of the accident and their families, would not be
lost in the shuffle.


  1. Thank you for sharing. It's amazing what the young can do when they're determined, isn't it? I admit, I'm surprised that there wasn't a memorial already. Glad it's finally happening.

  2. Spooky story. Thanks for sharing!

  3. thank you for sharing this story Tom. The young students' efforts and dedication are really inspiring. It is comforting to know that there are young people in the world who hold these values.

  4. It seems like aviation and flying is a lot safer today or is it?


    Those students did a good thing.

  5. I am touched by the response to this story...I never expected it to get much notice.

    After the memorial has been completed, I plan to visit, and take some pictures to share with all of you.

  6. Just don't understand one thing: Why the memorial wasn't built at the exact location. There's nothing east of that trailer park but fields exactly where 191 ended. Instead the memorial is built in a park a mile to the east. ???