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Friday, 1 June 2012

Speech from 50th anniversary memorial service

Here is the speech I delivered at the 50th anniversary memorial service in Unionville, MO on 26th May

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen

I stand here before you today in somewhat of an unprepared state. Certainly not for lack of words or of being in the United States of America, but for actually finding myself here, in Unionville, just a tad over 50 years since the crash of a Boeing 707 operating as Continental Airlines Flight 11 from Chicago to Kansas City.
I am unprepared also because I had no idea that I should make such a huge impact upon something that was so far removed from my part of the world and from what I had expected.
I am, to put it bluntly, an aviation enthusiast; someone who loves the smell, sight and sound of aircraft. During the late 1990s I had been given a one-hundred dollar coffee-table book about flying in the 1960s; the golden age of the jet-era. In it were dozens of photos of the Boeing 707 jetliner. It was and remains my favourite aircraft type.
I wanted to know more about Continental’s “Golden Jets”; the 707s that flew domestic routes for what was then one of America’s most prestigious and well-managed airlines. It was while surfing the internet for a school project in the early 2000s that I came across a typewritten Civil Aeronautics Board report on the sabotage of Flight 11.
I pondered over this report for the next few years or so, mystified by a lack of anything else about it. Then my research led to a startling fact; this was the first ever sabotage of a jetliner on American soil. I became further intrigued by the sketchiness of the details and the absolute lack of information. I was curious about Unionville and what had happened to it since it made headlines in 1962, twenty-four years before I was born.
There appeared, for one reason or another, to be more to find out about Flight 11 and a 60s-era typewritten accident report wasn’t enough. It soon became clear that there was no memorial to the crash despite its overwhelming historical significance and the tragic details of how it happened.
Now virtually every plane crash in the States has some kind of memorial; right back to the early days of aviation. I wondered what had happened to the families of the passengers and crew who were aboard that night; where were they now and why had this crash been so utterly forgotten. It seemed like a bad dream to me that nothing had been done to represent Flight 11’s passing over rural Missouri 50 years ago as it came to an untimely, unnecessary and callously planned end near where we stand today.
In 2007, hoping to find out further information as to what had happened I put up a blog about the crash. I had not even expected a single post or reply, thinking perhaps that most folks had forgotten. When emails and posts on the blog started coming in I was initially stunned. Then in 2008 when Duane Crawford contacted me about the push for a memorial I started to realize I had come across something much more poignant than a mere plane crash.
What had been initially an historical inquiry became a close connection with Flight 11 as I continued to hear from countless people connected with the flight in some way; people who had lost someone who was aboard, those who had seen the destruction first-hand and those who were here to offer support in the aftermath of May 22nd.
The push for a memorial and recognition of what happened here 50 years ago finally came to fruition in 2010. It has brought together a community of townsfolk and a wider community of those who have had to live with the grief of losing their loved ones aboard Flight 11. For those who worked at Continental at the time it weighed heavily on their minds too.  
When Captain Gray and his crew and the passengers in their care boarded Flight 11 on what I’m sure must have seemed an ordinary May night, nobody could have foreseen the terror and catastrophe that was to occur aboard a short time later. In fact 45 minutes after takeoff from Chicago, a lifetime of total disbelief for the people of this community and a lifetime of loss and grief for the relatives of those aboard, had begun.
Those expecting to see their loved ones at the airport or at home later that night never had that right; it was taken from then by the act of one man.   
Unionville never asked for what happened here 50 years ago but rose to the occasion and has chosen to honour that with this memorial and the efforts put into this anniversary.  
I had never dreamed that my blog would assist in seeing a memorial come about and in re-igniting awareness of Flight 11.
This is all about the families now though folks; not the blog or the historical importance; families come first and need to be recognized for what they have endured since their lives were irreversibly interrupted at approximately 9:17pm on May 22nd, 1962.  
I only hope that I have given the families some sort of a voice to say that you haven’t been forgotten, that people still care, that what happened here will never be forgotten.