Friday, July 16, 2010

Turtles, terrorists and TWA Flight 800

For years after my book Deadly Departure was published I used to wonder if everyone knew someone who died in the crash of TWA Flight 800. Either that, or someone who worked on the investigation, or saw the plane explode at 13,000 feet off the coast of Long Island on a summer night in 1996. I’d get something like one of those responses from anyone who learned that I’d written a book about the disaster.


I'm sure there are perfectly logical reasons why this is so. It is a small world after all. Still the coincidences and odd details remain intriguing to me and so, in commemoration of the 14th anniversary of the crash, I share some of them here.





Passengers

  • Two flight attendants working on the trip, Ray Lang and Melinda Torche were engaged to be married. That's Ray in the top photo.
  • Monica Omiccioli and Mirco Buttaroni from Italy had never flown before this, their honeymoon trip to the U.S.
  • Of the 230 people on the plane, roughly twenty-five percent were TWA employees and their families
  • Four passengers were twins - but none were traveling with their sibling
  • Passenger Janet Christopher was a TWA flight attendant and the wife of a New York FBI agent
  • Twenty one passengers were either students or chaperones from a Pennsylvania high school


Cockpit crew

  • The airplane, tail number N93119 left the factory in on July 15, 1971. The following day, flight engineer Oliver Krick was born. The plane crashed and Oliver Krick died 25 years later on July 17, 1996. That's Oliver, right.
  • Oliver's father Ron Krick was pilot. He was flying another TWA flight, the night of the crash.
  • Captain Steven Snyder was so famous for being conscientious about minimizing fuel consumption that within TWA, flying an airplane efficiently was called “Synderizing” the plane.
  • The flight was Ralph Kevorkian’s last check ride before becoming certified as a 747 captain.
  • Flight engineer Richard Campbell was a TWA 747 captain forced to retire at age 60 by federal regulations. He had been flying for TWA as a flight engineer for three years.


Cargo

  • In the cargo hold of the Boeing 747 was 800 pounds of glitter. First responders found it coating the surface of the Atlantic like a veil. 
  • There was also a shipment of small pet turtles.
  • A Styrofoam cooler containing corneas for transplant was being carried in the cockpit.


Imposters

  • David Williams arrived the night of the crash at the Long Island Coast Guard station being used as emergency headquarters. He wore an Air Force flight suit and Army insignia and began directing helicopters. When he was arrested three days later, it emerged he’d impersonated a military officer off and on for three years, sleeping in base housing and flying on military aircraft. He’d also played a doctor, writing prescriptions for friends and signing disability certifications.
  • A New York Post reporter was accidentally granted access to the hotel where families of victims were being housed. She remained with them, traveled to the memorial service and pretended to be family member herself for three days, filing reports for the Post.
  • Peter Michael Santora was arrested two months after the crash for conducting financial transactions under the name of TWA 800 passenger Judith Yee, who had been his next-door-neighbor in New York. He’d reportedly also replaced her photo with his on her driver’s license and tried to use it to open a charge account at Macy’s.

Terrorism


Legacies

  • Airplane manufacturers have been ordered to change fuel system designs to reduce the possibility that fuel tanks can explode
  • Aging airplane wiring is subject to increased scrutiny.
  • Mychal Judge, the New York City priest and fire department chaplain who comforted the families of TWA victims for months following the crash, was killed at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The discovery of Judge’s body at ground zero is recorded in the film 9/11 by French filmmakers Jules and Gedeon Naudet

Finally in another example of how TWA always seems to be six degrees of separation from everything else, I found this ad which underscores recent posts about how much things have changed in the airline business.
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