Hundreds gather in Des Plaines to remember Flight 191 crash

  • At the 40th anniversary memorial of American Airlines Flight 191's crash Saturday in Des Plaines, Chicago Fire Department Firefighter Robert Gembala, left, who leads the training instruction for rescuers at O'Hare International Airport, rings a ceremonial bell 31 times to commemorate the number of seconds the plane was airborne as Battalion Chief John Jakebuc looks toward the crash site.

      At the 40th anniversary memorial of American Airlines Flight 191's crash Saturday in Des Plaines, Chicago Fire Department Firefighter Robert Gembala, left, who leads the training instruction for rescuers at O'Hare International Airport, rings a ceremonial bell 31 times to commemorate the number of seconds the plane was airborne as Battalion Chief John Jakebuc looks toward the crash site. Jake Griffin | Staff Photographer

  • Kim Jockl, left, and Newana Cesarone, both of whom lost loved ones in the American Airlines Flight 191 crash 40 years ago near O'Hare International Airport, get reacquainted Saturday at the memorial ceremony at the Des Plaines tribute site.

      Kim Jockl, left, and Newana Cesarone, both of whom lost loved ones in the American Airlines Flight 191 crash 40 years ago near O'Hare International Airport, get reacquainted Saturday at the memorial ceremony at the Des Plaines tribute site. Jake Griffin | Staff Photographer

  • Mourners look toward the crash site of doomed American Airlines Flight 191 at a ceremony Saturday to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the tragedy.

      Mourners look toward the crash site of doomed American Airlines Flight 191 at a ceremony Saturday to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the tragedy. Jake Griffin | Staff Photographer

 
 

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.

0 Comments
 
Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.