Hundreds gather in Des Plaines to remember Flight 191 crash
There is a glint of joy when Kim Jockl recognizes someone she has only talked to on the phone before, but then it gives way to a sudden sadness that is always lingering around the surface on these days in late May.
It's the 40th anniversary of the doomed American Airlines Flight 191 that crashed near O'Hare International Airport on May 25, 1979. That was the day Jockl lost her parents, Bill and Corrinne Borchers. Another 271 people perished that day as well.
For the past 17 years, Jockl, her sister Melody Smith and a number of other volunteers worked to make the memorial garden at the southeast corner of Lake Park in Des Plaines a reality. Now the families have a gathering spot to remember together, grieve together and move forward together.
"It was worth every minute to give closure and peace to so many," Jockl said.
Roughly 300 people attended Saturday's memorial service that began with Jockl and Smith thanking those who helped make the park memorial happen and explain the genesis of the garden. Chicago firefighters then rang a bell 31 times to commemorate the number of seconds the plane was aloft before it crashed to the ground when an engine fell off.
A parade of family members, former airport workers and rescue personnel began reading the names of the 273 people who died that day.
"We were standing in the kitchen that day and my husband was on the phone with a co-worker who all the sudden told him to look out the window and there was a giant plume of black smoke," said Mary Alice Wenzl, a Des Plaines resident who lived a few miles away from the crash. "It was so terrible. And every year, it just feels like something that should be honored, these lives that were just snatched away like that."
Newana Cesarone of Rochester Hills, Michigan, lost her sister Narda Vetor in the crash 40 years ago. Cesarone said every year at this time she is flooded with bittersweet memories of her sister. She said sharing her experiences with others who lost loved ones is cathartic.
"It's sad and uplifting at the same time," she said. "It's good to be with people who went through the exact same thing you did that day."
The loss of life from the Flight 191 disaster remains the worst in U.S. aviation history.