Picking Up The Pieces

“Tears filled her eyes, as the faces of the flight crew stared at her from her kitchen table, smiling, knowing the secret, but unwilling to tell.”

Flight For Control

by

Karlene Petitt

 

 

I was working at a summer camp during the evening of July 17th, 1996, having just returned from my introduction to commercial aviation and international travel, when I received a phone call from my mother to inform me that TWA Flight 800 had crashed near the coast of Long Island.

 

 

PICKING UP THE PIECES: A Tribute to TWA Flight 800

 

The quote above from Flight For Control comes to mind as this is not only one of the deadliest aviation catastrophes it is also one of the most complex.  I remember watching a documentary on the N.T.S.B. investigation of this case and I remember the millions of recovered pieces rescued from the site of impact and each and every detailed piece that was placed back as if it were a true scale sized model airplane (as best as possible into their original positions in order to draw any new information.)

 

 

PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER: Resurrecting the damaged plane

 

 

As in any air crash case, answers were needed and fast.  Time was of the essence and grieving families wanted answers.  Investigators wanted to know something so that not only would they be able to answer the victims’ families and loved ones, but to try and implement a solution to the problem.

 

 

N93119 – Boeing 747-131

 

 

The N.T.S.B. came out with the official report of the crash on August 23, 2000, probable cause being:

 

 

“[An] explosion of the center wing fuel tank (CWT), resulting from ignition of the inflammable fuel/air mixture in the tank. The source of ignition energy for the explosion could not be determined with certainty, but, of the sources evaluated by the investigation, the most likely was a short circuit outside of the CWT that allowed excessive voltage to enter it through electrical wiring associated with the fuel quantity indication system.”

 

What is most scary about the outcome is not knowing the source of the short circuit outside the CWT. Despite the N.T.S.B.’s closing of the case, so many theories remain.  Also, all so troubling, is nearly two years later, a somewhat similar ignition catastrophe occurred on September 2, 1998 on board Swissair Flight 111, a McDonnell Douglas MD-11 (HB-IWF).  The right side ceiling above the flight deck caught fire due to faulty flammable material and spread rapidly destroying aircraft systems which led to the its unfortunate demise.  Fourteen crew and two hundred fifteen passengers perished into the Atlantic near St. Margarets Bay in Nova Scotia.

 

 

HB-IWF – McDonnell Douglas MD-11

 

 

So many unexplained aviation catastrophes have happened before and since because of fault maintenance.  It is not a mystery why the fear has been etched in stone for so many to step inside an airplane, especially a commercial one.  How much will it take for one human being to realize the life’s worth of another, if not lives?  What is even more scary is that it could have been you on that plane, less alone me.

 

My mother told me over the phone that evening, that as a result of the tragic event of TWA Flight 800, my former school district was suspending programs for students to travel internationally and for good reason.  One of the reasons was there was a group of foreign language students on board TWA 800 as a part of a class trip to Paris.  My first aviation and international travel experience was one of the last, if not the last, to take place for our district.

 

This case should not have to be.  Everyone should have the luxury of being able to fly, travel, and to feel safe doing so.  How much will take take to dive deep in the minds behind the aviation industry and pick up its broken pieces that have been shattered? 

 

 

The coast of Long Island. May every soul rest in peace and may all the pieces of our broken industry be rescued…. (Photo courtesy of one of my students)

 

 

In my humble opinion, the aviation industry is no longer on the verge of crashing, it has crashed.  The faulty maintenance of aircraft, pilots, cabin crew, and even I am sorry to say passengers is beyond astronomical.  The pieces need to be picked up so that we can not only be strong for the victim’s families, we can repair an industry that has been such a tremendous asset to our world. 

 

We can pick up the pieces to make a tribute to the victim’s whose lives those faces sitting across the table from you who were taken so untimely…

 

jeremy

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N121US: The Fallen Angel

It was the evening of June 17, 1996.  The wedding reception was at Detroit-Wayne County Metro Airport in Romulus, Michigan.  The ceremony took place on a beautiful Northwest Airlines Boeing 747-200 as Northwest and KLM-Royal Dutch Airlines were the masters of ceremony.  The ceremony lasted all night long until the morning as it took 7 hours and 55 minutes to complete.  The celebration took place at Schipol International, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.  It was a once in a lifetime opportunity.  Whose wedding was this for?

My marriage to (commercial) aviation..

The previous night I had spent in the living room avoiding not only packing for the trip but also avoiding such movies as “La Bamba” and “Airport” (1970) as they were all plastered on the television that night.  There was a specific scene in the movie “La Bamba” where a recurring dream Ritchie Valens (played by Lou Diamond Phillips) has of a midair collision between two planes that actually occurred directly over Ritchie’s school, in which Ritchie’s best friend was killed by one of the fallen aircraft.  Whenever I thought of that scene it brought me back to when I was eleven years old and my grandfather took my brother Ryan and I to place which as of 52 years ago today was one of the U.S.’s worst aviation catastrophes:

The Perish of Northwest Orient Flight 710
March 17, 1960

N121US: The Fallen Angel

It’s origin was Minneapolis.  It’s destination was Miami.  There was a brief stopover at Chicago-Midway.  The equipment, a Lockheed L-188C Electra with 4 Allison 501-D13 Powerplants, registered N121US, left the stopover at Midway only to loose contact with Indianapolis ARTC Center over Scotland, Indiana maintaining a cruise of FL 180 (18,000 feet.)  Probable cause was the “separation of the right wing due to flutter induced by oscillations of the outboard nacelles. Contributing factors were a reduced stiffness of the structure and the entry of the aircraft into an area of severe clear air turbulence. “  The aircraft went down in the area near the area of Cannelton and Millstone, Indiana near Tell City.  Fifty-seven and six crew were aboard.  There were no survivors.

The Kiwanis Electra Memorial Site at Night. Photo courtesy of David Clendenen.

Northwest Orient 710 wasn’t the only crash of the L-188.  Two had crashed prior to this one.  It makes one wonder..I remember my grandfather telling my brother and I what had happened on the site like it was yesterday.  I was terrified from that moment he finished the story to fly and vowed not to do so.  When I left the wooded area, I saw the beautiful Kiwanis Memorial that was erected by the public.  The spine chilling yet comforting message was strong:

Photo Courtesy of David Clendenen

There was a reason why I went to that site when I was eleven.  There was a reason why my first commercial flight was with Northwest.  The pure irony of it all..  The safety measures which were taken with my first commercial flight on that day took away all of my fears.  Not only that but I was married to aviation on that day.  How can we make this the case for everyone?  Just like the memorial, we need to echo that message and echo it strong.  We do not need any more angels in the skies falling down to keep reiterating the safety message.May the memory of the souls on board this flight be a blessing and a reminder that we should always strive for the goal to make our skies safe.

jeremy