I’m in Chicago this week on business, staying at the Hyatt in Rosement, which is close to O’Hare International Airport. So close in fact, planes roar right over the hotel, and you can see them lining up for landing in the distance here and throughout the surrounding townships.
I’ve always been fascinated with planes since I was a little boy, and although unlike Steve (DOS) didn’t fly when I was growing up, I still collected airline timetables (now a thing of the past) and fantasized what it would be like to fly on a big jumbo jet to some exotic location. I would study the route and seat maps, and even the meals and movies! I did a separate post a couple years back about airline timetables, which I had saved over the years, and re-discovered some stored in a closet while I was cleaning house. Today’s timetables are simply on-line, and like timetables, travel has changed forever; some good, some bad, but it’s still the best way to travel to a far-a-way land.
I point this out, as I remember vividly the horrific plane crash of American flight 191 on May 25, 1979. I was just finishing my junior year in high school in Virginia, and even though I had no connection to anyone aboard that ill-fated flight, I was so saddened by the instant loss of life on the massive DC-10 airliner. This was the worst aviation accident in US history, although the combined flights on Sept 11th had more fatalities in total. (Another story indeed, and I also visited the Pennsylvania field where the United flight crashed on that fateful day a few years back.) While I don’t want to post this in misery, I do so in honor of the people aboard those flights, and the families whose lives were forever changed in those few fateful seconds.
The 1970’s were the decade where international aviation really ‘took off’, as in the dawn of the much larger two-aisle Jumbo jets; the Boeing 747, the Lockheed 1011, and the McDonald Douglas DC10. All three were wide-body jets, and I yearned to go on one of those huge planes with two aisles, movies, meals, and friendly service. The fact that these huge ‘birds’ could actually takeoff was so amazing to comprehend. When I was around 7, we lived in the Washington D.C. area, and my Dad would sometimes take us to a park near the airport, where we could watch planes land, even bringing a radio with him where we could listen to the tower making announcements. It was sight-seeing visits like this that instilled my love of travel, even at such a young age. Who knew that many years later, i would meet my best friend and partner, Steve ‘DOS’, who was a 777 international pilot, pictured here sitting in the nose of a British Airways 747 on our recent trip to South Africa.
Anyway, back to the present . . .as I was working and staying near O’hare Airport, I looked up some information on AA flight 191 on the internet. There are many links about the crash, crew, passengers, families, etc and even some 38 years later, it’s a painful memory for them, and a reminder to others how fragile life really is. I fly most weeks for work now, starting regular flying back in 1986, and it’s always in the back of your mind – “what if” that you try not to think about.
Here is a link of the AA 191 crash from Wikipedia, which details the specifics of the crash, investigation, location, personalities, etc. Note that there was also a Delta flight 191 crash (same flight number) at DFW airport a few years later in 1985 on an L1011 jumbo jet. That crash was due to wind shear, which I always think about when taking off or landing in a Florida storm.
As I did more research on American flight 191 this week while here in Chicago, however, I was surprised that a memorial for flight AA 191 was not built until 30 years later! Although I fly American mostly, I must say shame on them for neglecting to memorialize this tragedy for so many years; probably because they were at fault due to cost-saving maintenance measures that were not up to procedures McDonald Douglas had recommended. As a result of the inferior maintenance procedures, (detailed in the Wikipedia link above) the left engine fell off the plane at take-off, causing the plane to crash less than a mile away, killing all 258 passengers, 13 crew, and 2 people on the ground. Again, after researching the crash and memorial, I set out after work to find it; actually it was very close to my Hyatt Hotel. As far as the memorial is concerned, it might have never happened had a six grade class of students at Decatur Classical School made it their class project after learning their assistant principal had lost both parents in the crash. Imagine that – God bless those students for caring enough to honor the passengers and their families, even 30 years later – before these students were even born! They raised the money, and to American’s credit they did contribute money towards the memorial, which can be found off of the corner of Touhey and Lee Avenues, at Lake Park. The low-lying brick memorial is located behind the Lake sign.
The park itself is beautiful, quiet, and serene, yet lies only a short distance from O’Hare airport. There is a nice paved walkway around most of the lake, with a public golf course to the far side of the lake, with a public clubhouse you can get a snack, drink, or rent a paddle boat.
I waked around the site a couple times this week after work, admiring the beauty of the park, and the families, children, people walking their dogs, bicycling, paddle boating, playing volley ball and in general enjoying life.
There is a war memorial honoring Illinois service men and women who served in the many wars over the years, and there are trees, benches, chairs throughout the park where people have chose to honor a loved one with a plaque in their memory.
The park is quite large, and initially I had a hard time finding the memorial. A couple web sites had the wrong location and cross-street marked. The AA 191 Memorial is on the corner of Touhy and Lee Avenues; across the street diagonally from the Extended Stay hotel.
The AA 191 Memorial itself is only about two feet tall, and is made up of bricks forming a low-level wall retaining wall surrounding some beautiful shrubbery, flowers and landscaping. (It is located behind the large Lake Park sign, and just past and on the other side of the Blue Star Memorial Highway sign, away from the street-side, facing the lake.)
Each brick of the AA Memorial contains the name of one of the passengers or crew who died on the flight, as well as the two who perished on the ground. Flight Crew names are located together, and the name of the other passengers are clearly marked in the semi-circular memorial. The memorial is very low-key; something people probably walk by daily and don’t even realize the significance of it. I stopped by the memorial a couple times this week, saying a short prayer for the families, and promised myself once again to always thank God for each and every day. Yes, even among the tragedy and tranquility of the memorial, it’s also a reminder of the life that exudes forth literally among it – silently begging passers by to examine their life and live it to the fullest.
The actual crash site of AA 191 is a couple miles up the road. While you can’t actually see it, nor walk thru the fenced off area, it is near a trailer park and Police canine training center. Fortunately the flight did not crash into the huge complex of refueling tanks which was very close to the impact zone, which would have created an even more enormous explosion, likely wiping out the nearby trailer park of residents.
So as I wrap up the post, I respectfully dedicate it to the souls on AA flight 191 and their families. May God bless you and comfort you, until that time you meet again.