Friday, October 31, 2008

Day 5 of 365: Tribute to American Eagle Flight 4184

A link to the details of this flight can be found here. A basic overview however, is that on October 31st 1994 America Eagle Flight 4184 was unable to overcome a build up of freezing rain and as a result ended up in an unrecoverable inverted dive impacting the earth at 695 kph. The plane landed in a soybean field just outside of the small town Roselawn, Indiana.

I was 14, in high school. I wasn't one for watching the news back then, but I remember the unending coverage of that crash. It was the topic of discussion at the grocery store when people were checking out. At the local coffee shops farmers and retiree's sat with speculation of what COULD have happened. It was as thick as smoke and the buzz about the events was everywhere you turned.

I hadn't thought about that crash since the camera crews packed up and the the next season of crops were planted. Nearly 13 years passed before I thought about the events of that day. What brought the events of that day to the forefront of my mind was an unlikely event, it's when I met my husband. He has studied and preoccupied himself with stories of aircraft as a hobby for years. Not just tragedy, but everything from the layout of cockpits and cabins to the engines, wings, and body structures. When he moved to Winamac and realized he was only a short hour drive away from the site, he started studying the events surrounding that crash. He was reeled in by the details of the event, and how such a significant crash had really been forgotten in the minds of so many. We decided together that we would go out that day on the anniversary of the crash and pay our respects. Such an event shouldn't be forgotten.

Unfortunately after a year of discussion, Mike was unable to make the trek over to Roselawn today. I however was able to. So this morning I packed up the children, some candles, and my camera and we headed over.

I was unprepared for the emotions that would accompany this trip. My thoughts the entire drive were with the families that survived. I was nervous. What if my presence there was an unwelcome one? Was it inappropriate of me to go? I was going to pay respects, but did I have a right?

I started facing some fears that I have always had in regards to losing loved ones and not being able to say goodbye, not being able to have closure.

I was also overcome with great honor to be able to go pay my respects to people who ultimately saved the lives of many. I was going to see heros of their own right. Without these people giving up their lives, it is very possible that the ATR-72 would still be flying in cold weather conditions. Instead because of this crash, the FAA grounded the ATR 72's for approximately 2 weeks. After that the FAA ruled that these aircraft could no longer be flown in any climate where there was even a remote chance of freezing rain. Reason being, the system that was in place to deal with such conditions was ineffective and had resulted in several crashes before this one. This accident was the proverbial straw that broke the camels back. It's very unfortunate that no one payed attention sooner.

When I arrived there was a car there. A young man and woman, paying their respects to what I can only assume was some loved ones that they lost that day. The gentleman looked to be in his early 20's and looked saddened, and pained. He must have only been 10-14 at most when it happened. He's probably just now reaching an age where he can wrap his mind around the events, if you ever actually can wrap your mind around something like that. I held a small moment of silence for him in my head.

Only after he left, did I leave my vehicle. It wasn't my place to interrupt his time alone in his moment. After all I was here to pay respects but on a much different, less personal level.

After he pulled away I got out and was aww struck by how well kept and maintained the small 50 ft plot was. It was a warm 72 degrees out, a much different scene than the weather 14 years prior. The grass was perfectly groomed, the crosses all standing in perfect formation. Along with the 68 white crosses, one for every person that perished that day, there were 4 larger ones for the crew. To the side of those was another small little garden of other crosses that families had brought and adorned for their loved ones. On the other side was a bench that read "reflections". There were baskets of mums spread out throughout the garden. Some crosses had small plaques in front of them. The garden was pristine, that small plot is well loved by whomever takes such great care of it. I stood in silence for a moment and took in the fresh, clean air. My eyes focused on the smallest of details. I read every name on every cross, and gave them the moment of remembrance that they deserved. I looked out to the field where 68 loved ones died that day 14 years ago.

After that I walked back to my van and brought out the mirror of candles. Sixty-eight candles in total. As I lit every one the heat grew. They were small tea lights but after lighting 68 of them it felt as hot as a forest fire. That moment really put into perspective the number of people who were now missing from so many others lives.

The wind picked up soon after I got the last of those 68 candles lit. Every single candle in a split second was blown out. I couldn't help but notice the irony in that. I decided that it was best and appropriate to leave them out. There was a reason those flames dissipated. I placed my mirror with the candles in the middle of the plot. I stood back took another look and walked away.

I leave you with some photographs in honor of those who died that day, and for the families that live to far away to be able to make that journey every year to pay respects.


Erin said...

A co-worker and I were just discussing this on Thursday. I remember trick-or-treating in the nasty, icy weather, and someone said to us, "I think a plane crashed by your house." It ended up being a bit further south about 15 minutes, but it was such an awful event.
I'm so glad that you went to pay your respects.

Michael Lyon said...

Your words are beautiful, your photos moving. I love u!

A CTM said...

As an airline 'CARE Team' member, I helped assist the families of those lost on Eagle 4184. My life was changed forever, in ways I cannot even describe, by 68 people I never knew. Your tribute is nicely done and your thoughtfulness surely appreciated by those who, as you mentioned, live too far away for a visit to be practical. There are many; the passengers came from every corner of America plus several other countries. Sweden, Colombia, Scotland, England and Lesotho are a few that come to mind. Though it has been many years, the passengers and crew of flight 4184, and their families, remain as always in my thoughts and prayers.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Roselawn and had just turned 9 the month before this plane crash happened. I remember seeing the media vans racing through town but was too young to fully understand the impact of this crash. As a teen, I remember driving by the site on my way to or from school and always paying attention to the crosses that adorn the road. Even though I knew no one on that flight, it is a humbling experience to know that 68 people lost their lives in that field.

I was telling my daughter about the crash last weekend while we were on our way to visit my sister who still lives in Roselawn. She is very interested in learning about it and I plan to take her to see the memorial soon.

May those lost continue to rest in peace.