Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Crash of Flight 3407- February 12, 2009

I first heard the news of a plane crash at 10:30 p.m. (2/12/09) as a bulletin came on the news. First responders reported that dozens of ambulances had been dispatched to an area near Clarence Center. The reports were sketchy at first but by morning we had the full story.
Reporters talked about the crash and Buffalo was doing what Buffalo does the best. Volunteers were at the scene. People were helping with whatever they could do. 

Buffalo is known as the City of Good Neighbors. I moved to Buffalo in 2007 and as a newcomer here I can attest to the validity of the title. My neighbors reached out to me with that old-fashioned value of welcoming a new person to the city. What I also learned is that the people of Buffalo have an intense pride in their city – a trait that I have admired.

We learned that one house had been demolished by a direct hit from the aircraft. We witnessed the flames and everyone knew that those dispatched ambulances would not be needed. That no one could survive the intense flames. The report – A total of 50 persons had died. As the day wore on we learned about some of the victims.

I spent many years in a job where I had to interview people and I came to recognize that everyone has a  personal ‘story’. Those who were killed were as diverse and multi-faceted at the city they were headed for.

There were three young women, all aged 24 – Elly Kausner, a law student in Jacksonville, FL was returning to Buffalo because her young nephew’s school was having a Valentine’s day luncheon. His teachers had told the class to invite someone special and that was his aunt Elly. She was coming here to be his date for Valentine’s Day.

Maddie Loftus, Buffalo State College Alum, was returning to Buffalo to take part in a reunion of the hockey team that she used to play with. Her teammates were eagerly awaiting her arrival. One teammate tearfully said, “I’ve learned that you can’t take life for granted."

And there was Rebecca Lynne Shaw, the copilot of the aircraft, who at 24 was already a certified pilot and flight instructor.

Joseph Zuffoletto, Colgan  Airlines Pilot, was returning to Buffalo to visit his grandmother. She said that as a small child he loved planes and he got his pilot’s license when he was only 17, before he got his driver’s license. She smiled as she talked about him. 

Two Jazz musicians, Gerry Niewood (sax/flute) and Coleman Mellett (guitar) were on their way to Buffalo to play with Chuck Mangione at the local Symphony Hall. The concert was cancelled by Mangione who stated “I am grieving and praying with their families and friends.”

Beverly Eckert was returning to Buffalo to award 2 scholarships in her husband’s name. He had been killed in the World Trade Center on 9/11. She had formed a group “Live a Full Life -Voices of 9/11"  saying “the grief gave us lessons in life.” She honored her husband’s memory to the end.

Douglas Wielinski died in his  house. Coincidentally he and passenger Kevin Johnston worked at the same company, Henkel Corporation in Buffalo. 

Local human rights activist Allison Des Forges had lived an exemplary life. She worked for Human Rights Watch for 17 years and previous to that was a law professor in International Law at SUNY/Bflo. She had played a critical role in Rwanda’s reconciliation.

Susan Wehle was a cantor at a local Temple Beth Am for the past seven years. Much loved by the Interfaith Community of Buffalo. 

I have named eleven people, there were 39 others who also had their own personal 'life story'. 

Then there were the people who had been scheduled to be on the flight – a young man Paul, traveling with his supervisor, David, had a 5-hour delay in New Orleans causing them both to miss flight 3407. Their faces mirrored the shock that they felt as they told their story.
Another man, Mike, said that the flight had a two hour delay and he was at Newark Airport working on his computer and did not hear the boarding announcement. He missed  flight 3407.

Destiny versus fate? These words are being bandied around today. Although the words are used interchangeably in many cases, fate and destiny can be distinguished. Fate defines events as predetermined or "inevitable". Destiny - something  foreordained and often suggests a great or noble course or end. Why did some miss the flight? Coincidence? I prefer to call them God-incidences.

The officials gave sound bite bulletins - "Ice on wings? - Nose-dived into the house - Direct hit- All of a sudden we have no response to that aircraft."  They are trying to piece it all together.

As I watched the news something started happening in my home. I got the first call early in the morning. “Just saw the crash on TV and wanted to know if you are o.k.” The phone calls and e-mail messages came all day. From family and friends in England, Florida, California, Massachusetts and many other places around the world. I was so touched to think that they were  concerned about me. It felt good to know that so many people love me. It was great to have a conversation with them.

During the day I had to phone a company about a discrepancy on a bill. When I gave my name and address the representative said “I want to express my condolences to you and the people of Buffalo.” I asked him where he was located and he told me Seattle, Washington. He had seen it on the news.

Gov. Paterson addressed the public and said “This is a tragic day for New York." He went on to say – “Try to find the good in this. A mother and daughter who lived in the house escaped death. This is bringing people together. Become closer with your family.”

Emergency Responders said “It makes you want to go home and hug your family – life is fragile.”

Teenagers baked cookies for the emergency workers because they said they just had to do ‘something.'

Mayor Brown said “This is a terrible tragedy for our community.” He went on to talk about the tremendous response from citizens reaching out to help. He said he is very proud of the community and outpouring of support.

The crash shattered the  calm of a winter night in upstate NY. Churches opened their doors for the public to come and pray. Grief counselors were dispatched to talk with the families. 

I had no direct connection with the crash other than being a TV spectator, but even I was affected while sitting in my living room watching the events unfold. I had received unexpected messages of concern and love from my loved ones around the world. 

This tragedy has already brought many people together in grief and in realizing that life is too short to waste time on minutiae.  Many around the world are holding their loved ones closer to them this evening. As the governor said "Become closer to your family."

My prayers and condolences go out to the families and friends of  those who died.

Today the flags are flying half staff in the Buffalo area.
 I am proud to be a (new) member of this tight knit community.
 I am very proud of Buffalo!

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