Sunday, June 3, 2012

American Airlines Flight 191 -- May 25, 1979

One of the best things about blogging are the connections I make with people.  There is nothing better than getting an email or comment from someone who relates to my world or just enjoys reading about my life.  I had said it before, and I will say it again: people fascinate me. I like people and the stories they have to share.  The more you get to know someone, the more you learn about life.
Recently, one of my blog readers, Sue, made contact via email.  After a number of email exchanges, she told me that she witnessed the American Airlines Flight 191 at O'Hare Airport.   I asked her to write a guest blog.  What a story to share!  What a way to learn about life!
To give a brief summary of AA Flight 191:
- May 25, 1979
- DC-10 ORD bound for Los Angeles
- at takeoff rotation, the left engine separated from the wing and flipped over the wing
- due to the separation, hydraulic lines were severed on the wing which caused the slats to retract. 
- the left wing was in a stall due to the position of the slats, and the right wing continued to produce lift
- the aircraft rolled and eventually crashed into an open field
- all 258 passengers died, along with 13 crew members. In addition, two men were killed on the ground.
- here is a Wikipedia link for more detail.



I want to thank Sue for her courage in writing her story.  I could only imagine how hard it is to recall what was seen that day.  I also want to thank Sue for taking the time to share her story.  Without further ado, the Crash of American Airlines Flight 191, as see through the eyes of Sue:
Ever since I was a little girl I’ve been fascinated by 2 things: airplanes and astronomy. Now, at 57 years old, my neck is very arthritic and I’m convinced it’s from spending most of my life looking up at the sky with my head and neck bent back in the “fully upright and locked position”. But it’s been worth it.
Even though I’m fascinated by airplanes, I never felt particularly comfortable flying because of all the thunderstorms, tornadoes, incessant winds, blizzards, and other assorted weather that occurs here in Chicago. But my main concern with those things was that they would cause a lot of turbulence and I’d end up launching my lunch onto the back of the poor soul seated in front of me. I never worried about planes crashing because that always happened “somewhere else”. But that all changed on a gorgeous sunny day; May 25, 1979.
At the time, I lived very close to KORD near the end of runway 32R. Whenever I could I’d go down Mount Prospect Road to Touhy Avenue, near the edge of the airfield, and watch the planes take off.  What a rush!!  On that particular day I got home from work shortly before 3 PM. Moments later, American Airlines FLT 191 took off from 32R, rolled over onto its left side, and crashed into a nearby field. Fortunately, due to some trees, I didn’t see it hit the ground directly. I ran over to the field but the heat from all the fire was far too intense and an unbelievable amount of thick black smoke was everywhere. An engine was lying in the middle of the street. I stood there looking at it, completely stunned. Others who were standing nearby had the same look of shock on their faces. There was an eerie silence. No one spoke. As in most cases, whenever the mind gets overwhelmed by events, it tends to revert to sort of a numb state. At least, that’s how it was for me. Hundreds of ambulances came from all over and completely filled Touhy Avenue, a lengthy four lane highway. After a while I wondered why some of them weren’t leaving and taking the injured to the hospital. Certainly some people must have survived! Then I saw two priests walking away from the crash site; one had his arm around the shoulder of the other. They were both crying uncontrollably. Then I knew why none of the ambulances were leaving.
To this day I can’t drive by that location without feeling a deep sense of sorrow. I can’t really talk about the crash in much detail without shaking badly. I still have frequent nightmares about it. Whenever I fly somewhere I have to shut my eyes during takeoff so that I won’t see if the plane starts to roll. Despite all this I truly believe that flying is the safest form of transportation. From reading another blog, FL390, I’ve gained a much better insight into the incredible amount of training pilots have had as well as the sophistication and safety systems built into today’s aircraft. Because of what I’ve learned from that blog I don’t worry quite as much as I used to. But still, it’s hard.
From that horrible experience I learned an important lesson about how fragile life is, and how things can change in an instant. Of course my “head” knew that, even before the crash. But after the crash, my heart finally knew it. Today, I try not to take the people in my life for granted. I no longer assume that loved ones “just know” that I love them. Now I make sure to tell them.
--Sue
Mount Prospect, IL

26 comments:

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    1. You're very welcome! Thanks for taking the time to read it.

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  2. Wow, Sue. Thanks so much for sharing this story. I fly a lot, and each time know there's a chance of something like this happening (although much less than each time I go get in my car). Still, the thrill of flight and the rewards of seeing faraway places are worth it to me, and I'm glad to hear this didn't stop you from getting in the air. I think for a lot of people it would.

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    1. Hi HunnerWoof, Thanks so much for your kind words. They mean a lot to me. It was very very hard to fly for a long time, but I had to do it for my job. It's still very difficult; particularly takeoffs. I usually need to take something for anxiety for several days before the trip, and certainly for the flight. Like you said, though, driving is more dangerous for sure.

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    2. I'm naturally high strung, and on those occasions when I travel from London Heathrow to the Far East, my anxiety level goes off the chart at take off and it repeats 12 hours later during landing. I get seriously worked up when we're over water (English Channel and Bay of Bengal) cause I can't swim. Just reading all your articles and reading about the alleged hauntings make my palms sweat even though I'm on terra firma. I don't care what anyone says about flying being incredibly safe -- just the thought of being on an aircraft makes me feel ill with fear.

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  3. So scary and wow I can't believe you witnessed it. There is a site called airdisaster dot com that has the cockpit voice recorder from Alaska Airlines flight 261 crash off LAX. It haunts me every time I hear it because I was flying (used to be a Skywest FA) that day it happened. At about 1:54 seconds into the tape it talks about the Skywest pilots who were watching this all go down. They seem so calm and I can't imagine how they must have been feeling seeing the plane go down in front of them and not being able to help. As a pilot's wife I know it's strange to listen to these tapes but I almost feel as if it is the pilots last chance to say goodbye. May they all rest in peace.

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    1. Hi Amanda! I give you a lot of credit for having been an FA. It seems like such a difficult job, and carries along with it a tremendous amount of responsibility. I agree; it must have been heartbreaking for the Skywest pilots to watch helplessly, and acutely terrifying for the Alaska Airlines crew and pax. Yes, may they rest in eternal peace.

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  4. Hi Sue ~ I moved to Chicago a little over 4 years ago to Mount Prospect and like you I love watchinb the planes take off and land and while on my commute home on the train I get to see alot of planes taking off and landing. Recently one of my Co workers told me the story of flight 191. I can't imagine me or someone I love being on that plane. I also cant imagine having wittnessed the crash first hand. I always say a quick prayer for the safety of each plane as I see it leaving the ground. God bless you, I can tell by your story it still shakes you up. May Gods peace comfort you and the surviving love ones of flight 191.

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    1. Thank you so very much for your comments and prayers. It was horrific for all involved. I can only imagine what the families and friends of those who died must have gone through (and are still going through). A memorial was finally created in Des Plaines last year. I haven't gone to see it yet but I know I will. Maybe it will help bring some peace for everyone that was affected by the crash.

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  5. At that time, I was working for one of the Chicago television stations. After the crash, I was sent out to the crash scene. There were police officers half dressed directing traffic around the site. Then there was the wreckage. Nothing seemed recognizable except for the yellow flags that marked where bodies and parts of bodies were located. It was hard to identify them since they were all charred from the fire. This was my first and only airplane crash incident. I'm very lucky I never experienced any nightmares.
    After realizing that the plane was an American DC-10, I remembered a few years earlier when I was serving in the military, I would go out of my way to fly American DC-10's on leave because they had the cockpit cameras that were turned on during takeoffs and landings. That made me realize that the people of flight 191 probably watched their own crash. What a horrible thought.
    May they all rest in peace.

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  6. Hi Anonymous,
    Yes,I distictly remember the yellow flags on the top of wooden sticks marking where parts of charred bodies were found. I heard that only 12 bodies were intact. I also read that the cockpit camera was indeed on during FLT 191's takeoff and crash. I can't even fathom what that must have been like for the passengers to see.
    It saddens me tremendously that it took the concerted efforts of some local grammar school students as well as the victims families to push for a memorial to be erected in memory of all who were killed on AA FLT 191. It was finally completed a year or so ago; 30+ years after the tragedy. I want to go visit it sometime, but right now I just don't have the courage. Hopefully soon I will.
    On a different note, I'd like to thank you for serving in the military and helping to preserve our freedom that so many have fought and died for. As they say: "Land of the free because of the brave." May God bless you and all military personnel, past and present.
    ---Sue

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  8. Thanks for sharing. I was 14 at the time of the crash and have no direct connection, but I think it made an impression as it was one of the first disasters I was old enough to understand in a deep way. Every so often for whatever reason, I have to come back to the internet and re-live it. Maybe because my dad traveled thru O'Hare frequently.

    I think it's a disgrace to humankind that it took 30 years and some grade school kids to get a memorial constructed. But better late than never though. God bless those kids and the others that made it happen and the families of the passengers. All will never be forgotten.

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  9. steven.ondreck@gmail.comMay 25, 2013 at 11:32 AM

    Thank you...34 years ago today I lost me Father, John R. Ondreck on Flight 191...I want to publicly thank the pilots for there efforts to save everyone that day. My Father worked for Hamilton Standard/Pratt-Witney I know the hell the pilots went through to attempt to keep the plane safe...Thank you to all pilots who keep us safe in the air...

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    1. Thank you for visiting this post. My heart is with you on this day.

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  10. Thank you all so much...I just found this post
    I was 19 on that day 34 years ago and was supposed to meet my mom when her flight arrived in from Chicago to LAX. She had called me that morning to tell that she would call me when she got to LAX and that she loved me. The last time I saw her was on her birthday a month prior and we had a great time. She had a job with McDonald Douglas traveling to their plants around the country working on their computer systems as a trouble shooter and this was one of those work trips. It was so shocking to have my mom disappear so instantaneously like that. Just poof she was gone and life was never the same again. But Thank God for God because I talk to him everyday since that day and that relationship with God has always comforted me, given me strength, hope and the will to go on and be the person that my mom would have wanted me to be. I prayed that night really hard for God to give me all her great qualities so I could carry on some of her spirit and have her with me always. She was amazing! I miss you and I love you mom.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your story.

      I think it is wonderful that you are carrying on the spirit of your mother.

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  11. This crash is the reason I'm scared to fly. I was three at the time, but a close family friend who was an AA flight attendant was engaged to one of the flight crew. I listened to my mother tell the story for years about how the plane took off, went straight up and then rolled over and crashed. She talked about how she called her friend when she saw the names of the flight crew on the news and that when she picked up the phone, my mother thought it was someone else. She didn't recognize her voice.

    You're right - it's stories like this that make you realize how your life can change in an instant and the importance of not taking anything for granted.

    Unfortunately, I think about this incident every time I have to get on a plane. I hate take off. I have to fly for work and hate leaving my daughter behind every single time.

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    1. Stevie - Thank you for sharing your story. Yes, I am sure that the event and what followed has made such an impact on your life.

      Do you mind me asking how your mom's friend is doing?

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    2. Hi Stevie,

      I feel so bad for your Mom's friend. How terribly sad!

      Also, my heartfelt condolences to S. Ondrek on the loss of your Dad, and to Anonymous on the loss of your Mom. I agree with Joanna: it's wonderful that you want to honor your Mom by carrying her spirit with you in your daily life.

      Stevie: I fully relate to how you feel. I'm still acutely frightened during take-offs, especially when the pilots have to initiate a turn as soon as the plane lifts off of the runway. I immediately get terrified thinking that it's starting to roll.

      I still live close to the end of runways 32L and 32R. I can hear the planes taking off, and the engines getting louder and louder as the planes fly over my house. To this day, I find myself holding my breath and praying that everyone will be safe, and that I never again have to hear the horrific sound of an airplane crashing.

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    3. I'm just like you. I've actually been prescribed a powerful French-made sedative called Stablon and a more common sedative called Propanolol by a doctor to control my absolute fear of flying.

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  12. I will never forget watching the local news in Las Vegas, NV. I saw my best-friends brother crying on the news. The y were at Macarran Airport. I thought something happened to Mr. Ernst, as he had traveled a alot. I call my next door neighbor and said let's go to Erin's house and find out. Walking all of three houses, we knocked on the door. When I saw who answered I can't even tell you how I felt. They let me know that it was Erin on the plane. A trip they had given her and a another girlfriend as a gift in High School. All our lives were different from that day on. A couple of years latter a big For Sale sign stood in their lawn.

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    1. Darcy, thank you for sharing your story.

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  13. Yeah I remember that. A friend of my parents was a businessman on standby at O'Hare on that holiday weekend and wound up on the plane. It of course crashed and they had a hard time because of the high intensity fire, identifying people so they were asking for wedding ring inscriptions for example,

    The crash never had to happen, could have been prevented and all those people didn't have to suffer like they did. You don't take shortcuts with people's safety for any reason.

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  14. Hello again. I posted way back on August 2, 2012 at 3:34 AM. I'm up in Canada where I just watched a Mayday program about the crash of Flight 191. You can view it at http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x18qo1r_mayday-air-crash-investigation-s12e07-america-s-deadliest_shortfilms .
    Afterwards, I was able to find an American version of a similar program called Seconds From Disaster over at YouTube. You can view it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEY6HnF1olU .
    I was surprised to learn from the American version that the pilot of Flight 191, Captain Walter Lux, had just flown that same DC-10 from Phoenix into Chicago earlier that day, and was scheduled to go off duty there in Chicago for that entire Memorial Day weekend. But an unnamed pilot, that was scheduled to fly Flight 191 from Chicago to Los Angeles, wanted to attend a family function, so he asked Captain Lux to swap assignments. As a result, while there was at least one family probably thanking God, there were 273 other families probably asking why did their loved ones have to die that day.
    I searched the internet and found other forums that included postings relating stories of people who were scheduled for other flights but ended up on Flight 191, and of others who missed that doomed flight. RIP to all who die in crashes.
    Sue, thank you for your thanks and blessing regarding my military service. I am especially proud of my military experience because I assisted in saving multiple lives during a search and rescue mission.

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