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Monday, 25 June 2012

My experience at the crash site

It has taken me some time to muster up the emotional stamina to write about my visit to the crash site. The first one was May 25th (Friday) with the Allen and Kuhn families. The second was the Saturday following the memorial service with a large number of the families including the Gray family (Captain of Flight 11).

The first Friday I was a bit jetlagged and bewildered to be in the USA; the heat was intense as I had just left winter in New Zealand. After meeting the Allen's and Kuhn's at Duane Crawford's beautiful home in Unionville I climbed into Ron Cook's truck (he is the gentleman who found the wreckage of N70775 the morning following its untimely plunge to earth) and we headed out along the UU highway before veering left onto a much smaller road before coming upon a farmhouse with children playing in the front yard. Opposite the house was a chained up rust-coloured gate; an ancient weather-worn barn stood to the right at a little distance off.

We slowly drove down a track into the field that seemed to go for miles. And then we came to a line of trees (after being jolted to the ceiling by the ruts in the road). That is the "infamous" tree line that can be seen in some of the pictures to do with Flight 11. Just to the north of that treeline was where Flight 11and its passengers and crew  had come to their final resting place.

I hopped out of the tuck into long grass. I was told to look out for ticks as they bite and burrow into your skin and cause infection and death eventually if not treated quickly. My mouth must have dropped open a fair bit as we don't have anything poisonous in New Zealand really.

And then Ronnie Cook with tears in his eyes explained to the Kuhn and Allen family and myself (with Duane Crawford present) what he had seen in the early hours of May 23rd 1962 as he came upon the huge badly broken (yet still integrally intact) fuselage of the Boeing 707 that had had 45 souls aboard.

I stood there with a completely unusual feeling of peace, of serenity. The field where Flight 11 crashed was as calm and peaceful as a mill pond. Only a few birds sung here and there and a warm breeze rustled the long grass.

We all walked down to near a bright green bush where the cockpit section of Flight 11 has lain 50 years ago. I stood there going through a roller coaster of emotions. I felt a bit guilty; I hadn't lost anyone on this flight but of course I am as connected to it as anyone else really.

The field itself is long grass and the crash site has been overgrown by blackberry bushes and a single bright green bush. The grass is coarse and full of ticks and bugs.  At the actual spot I could just imagine in my head what it must have been like for Ron Cook to come across that 707; for the investigators in their 1960s suits and thick-rimmed glasses; for the FBI men with their slick suits and Ford Thunderbird keys clenched in their sweaty palms; wondering what the heck had happened here; for the many young men who carried bodies from what had been the pristine cocktail-evening style cabin of N70775; the grim and curious faces of locals perched on the bank opposite the plane; the press who had gathered like storm clouds; the police and local law enforcement who had a gargantuan task on their hands.

Finally I was at the place where 50 years ago 45 people lost their lives. I was as close as I will ever get in my life to the spot that has so fascinated me; the flight that caught my attention and lead to this blog, the flight that bugged me from the early 2000s till now. In my own life I felt no peace till this moment standing on the crash site. It was as if I had completed a journey, not so much for myself, but for those who had lost their lives in what was America's first-ever sabotage of a jetliner on a commercial flight; the time when America lost her aviation innocence during the golden years of the jet age.