After 32 years, a memorial for the 273 people who died when American Airlines Flight 191 crashed in Elk Grove Township shortly after takeoff from O'Hare International Airport will be unveiled Oct. 15 in Des Plaines.
The May 25, 1979 crash was the deadliest, non-terror-related airplane disaster in U.S. aviation history. American Airlines, after pressure from victims' families and lawmakers, only recently released an accurate list of names of all the passengers killed in the crash.
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"We're so excited that it's going to happen," said Kim Jockl, 55, who lost both her parents, Corrinne and Bill Borchers, in the crash.
Jockl, an assistant principal at Decatur Classical School in Chicago, and her 64-year-old sister, Melody Smith of Arlington Heights, have been trying to get some sort of commemoration for Flight 191 victims for years. On the 25th anniversary of the crash, the sisters organized a memorial gathering at a chapel in O'Hare Airport's Terminal 2.
A two-year campaign by students at Jockl's school helped make the memorial a reality. It was around the 30th anniversary of the crash that the class of sixth graders, under the direction of teachers Beth Allegretti and Marianne Sharping, made it their mission to get the memorial as part of a Constitutional Rights Foundation project.
The students wrote letters to state Sen. Dan Kotowski of Park Ridge and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Evanston, who helped secure about $20,000 in funding for the memorial from American Airlines.
"The students have truly taken this project and followed through with it," Smith said. "I think that's really commendable. It's amazing what youth can do."
Jockl said people who were in some way connected to the flight have been reaching out after hearing about the memorial's planned dedication.
"We've already heard from five victims' families today from California and all over," Jockl said. "We've already had quite an outpouring via phone and emails. I think today it's (about) listening to peoples' stories and why this is so important."
The curved stone wall memorial in Des Plaines' Lake Park will be 24 inches high and 75 feet in length. It will bear the names of all 271 passengers and crew members on board the flight, as well as two people killed on the ground when the plane crashed in a field off Touhy Avenue.
The wall will be erected within the next month behind a large flower planter at the northwest corner of Touhy Avenue and Lee Street, not far from where Flight 191 went down. It will include a plaque describing the crash, a tree and landscaping around it, and possibly a bench.
"There are probably people who said this (memorial) isn't really needed," Jockl said. "This is a good thing, and people don't forget when something impacts their lives like this, and there were so many (affected). It's just not family."
Organizers hope to contact more family members and emergency personnel who worked the scene after the crash and invite them to the dedication.
"There will be some families that we saw at the 25th (anniversary) but they were a handful ... I think we will get many more," Smith said. "Somehow, there was unfinished business here with the way this whole thing has transpired. And now, there's going to be the final chapter."
For more information about the memorial, email Allegretti at firstname.lastname@example.org or Sharping at email@example.com or call (773) 534-2200.