Almost a month ago I was waiting in the Pittsburgh train station, for the next leg of my trip back to Kansas City. A sweet lady was sitting just a few seats down from me. I was drawn to her.
I got up, walked toward her, and introduced myself. We began to talk.
When I asked her what she did for a living, she said “I’m in education.” Her educational field list was impressive.
When I asked her if she was traveling with her husband, our conversation changed radically.
“On a beautifully clear and warm evening in Western Pennsylvania, USAir Flight 427 began its approach to Pittsburgh International Airport,” wrote Matthew P. Smith of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“The Boeing 737, carrying 127 passengers and a crew of five, was making a routine trip from Chicago and was due to land in Pittsburgh around 7:15 p.m. It never got there.”
It was 1994. My Amtrak friend’s husband was flying from Chicago to Pittsburgh. His flight number was USAir Flight 427.
There were 132 who died. They were mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, and children.
The plane disintegrated on impact.
I asked my friend to excuse me while I ran to grab some food. While eating, I quickly read three articles about flight 427.
These are small pieces of the stories.
It took the National Transportation Safety Board 4 1/2 years to determine the cause of the trash.
Journalist Bill Adair wrote, “The investigation became the longest in the history of the National Transportation Safety Board, and it raised doubts about whether the Boeing 737, the world’s most widely used commercial jet, was truly safe”.
Vikki Anderson, a retired investigator for the Federal Aviation Administration, said the Flight 427 team was closer than those examining other accidents she worked on. Maybe that was because it took so long, or maybe it was because the stakes were so high.
Assistant Chief Ron McMasters and Aliquippa Fire Department Captain Jones were the first to walk onto the crash site looking for an airliner. Their eyes couldn’t comprehend what they were seeing until they came across a body part.
“And from that point on, it was like the veil was lifted,” Jones said. “We could clearly see everything, a lot of debris.”
“And human carnage.”
“I had never seen that many at one time, or that level of destruction,” said Jones.
“We moved through the area looking for survivors and quickly determined there were no survivors,” said Jones.
That word spread from their fire radios to the TV and radio coverage. Families were clinging to for any word.
“Most NTSB cases are wrapped up in a year.” Adair wrote. “... They had to sort out competing theories from Boeing officials (pilot error) and the pilots union (mechanical malfunction).”
NTSB investigators went to extraordinary lengths to figure out what happened. They re-created the flight in simulators to understand what the pilots experienced.
They even analyzed the pilots’ grunts and the inflections in the way the co-pilot spoke, to determine if he had made a fatal mistake”.
It wasn’t pilot error.
Multiple pilots had reported the rudder issues. The final NTSB test revealed the rudder valve could jam and reverse.
When I returned from dinner, I sat next to my Amtrak friend and we visited three hours.
“They found my husband’s briefcase. How I miss him. Boeing knew there was a defect.”
“It’s always about money, always. My husband died because of greed”.
Her tears, and words, were filled with sorrow, and despair.
Readers, before I got on the train, I asked her if anything good came out of the crash.
Next week, I will share her story. In the interim, I ordered the book, by Bill Adair, “The Mystery of Flight 427.” I have just begun to read the story.
Even though it’s been 26 years, please join with me and pray for the families.
Diane Mack is coordinator of Putting Families First, Jackson County's Family Week Foundation. Email her at Director@jacksoncountyfamilyweek.org.