United Airlines flight 232
Years ago, many people thought that anyone who was trying to invent an airplane was pretty much insane…saying, that “if man were meant to fly, God would have given him wings” as their reasoning. I’m sure that those same people reiterated their thoughts on the matter, with each new plane crash…basically jumping on the chance to say, “I told you so!” Of course, these days, no one thinks that way, whether they like to fly or not. I guess a fear of flying and the idea that it is a foolish pipe dream aren’t the same things at all. Still, while man has proven over the years that flight is possible, and in fact mostly safe, there are some airplane crashes that that will forever be embedded in our minds. For me, of course, the one that I can picture in my mind at the drop of a hat, is Flight 232 that crashed in Sioux City, Iowa. This was the crash that took the life of my Great Aunt Gladys Pattan Byer Cooper. That pilot was so close to landing that plane safely, and would have, in fact, if the plane hadn’t put in one last effort to turn over due to a major loss of hydraulics. The resulting crash made me wonder how anyone survived…much less the 185 out of 296 people on board. The only reason they survived was the skill of the pilot…and much prayer.
Another plane crash that has stayed in my memory was the crash of the Concorde, that occurred on this day, July 25, 2000. The Concord was a beautiful plane, and by far the most luxurious one of its time. I’m not sure there are even any planes that are more luxurious today…although the Boeing 787 might be. Dubbed the Dreamliner, it gives the indication that it might out class the Concorde. Nevertheless, in its day, the Concorde was the end all, beat all of airplanes. The thing that always amazes me is that sometimes it is the tiniest of things that ends up bringing down a plane. Much like the bird strike that brought down US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River.
The Concorde was downed be a small piece of metal on the runway…that had fallen off of another plane. Air France Flight 4590 left DE Gaulle Airport for New York carrying nine crew members and 96 German tourists who were planning to take a cruise to Ecuador. That piece of metal shredded the tire that ran over it, throwing pieces of the tire into one of the engines and fuel tanks, causing a disabling fire. The pilot had no idea what was about to happen, but just moments later the plane plunged to the ground near a hotel in Gonesse, France. A huge fireball erupted and all 105 people on the plane were killed immediately. The Concorde, the world’s fastest commercial jet, had enjoyed an exemplary safety record up to that point, with no crashes in the plane’s 31 year history. That crash, however, marked the beginning of the end for the Concorde. The last flight of the Concorde was on October 24, 2003. What was supposed to mark the first of a future of supersonic, fast paced air travel, was brought to a disappointing halt. Air travel has taken on a much slower pace since that time.
I was watching the news tonight about an American family that had just found out that their daughter was among the casualties of the tragic earthquake and tsunami a little over a week ago. Taylor Anderson, an accomplished English teacher who had been living in Japan and teaching English to young students there, used what precious time she had to escape, to make sure her students were safe. It was a brave and selfless act that cost her her life in the end. She was the first American known to have been killed in the disaster.
Losing their daughter was probably the single worst event in the lives of her family, but to add to the tragedy of that loss, is the fact that, as often happens in the aftermath of a disaster, information can get mixed up. Taylor’s family had been told that she had survived and was safe, only to find out later that they had been misinformed. A devastating turn of events. Almost impossible to believe.
I know how this family feels, and my heart goes out to them. My family also experienced a similar devastating situation of misinformation. My Great Aunt Gladys was one of the victims in the 1989 crash of United Airlines flight 232 in Sioux City, Iowa. Our family was also told that she had survived, and it was even on television…but it wasn’t to be. Somehow her purse had arrived at a hospital with another woman, so they thought it was her. We couldn’t believe it, and even continued to watch the reports, hoping against hope that they had been wrong.
Losing a loved one in any kind of disaster is unbearably hard, but when you are told they made it, and then find out they didn’t…well, it’s like losing them twice. It is no one’s fault, of course, and those people who have told someone their loved one is safe, only to have to tell them they were mistaken, are torn to shreds too. It is devastating to all involved, and my heart goes out to each and every one of them.