Memorial honors 1979 plane crash victims

October 14, 2011 10:00:00 PM PDT
A memorial was unveiled in Des Plaines on Saturday for the 273 victims of the American Airlines Flight 191 crash.

The crash on May 25, 1979 was the deadliest airplane disaster not connected to terrorism in U.S. aviation history. It killed all 271 on board the plane and two people on the ground. With its left engine missing, the Los Angeles-bound DC-10 went down shortly after taking off from O'Hare International Airport.

"Every time I drive down Touhy Avenue, past the crash site, I think of it," said Gary Jensen, a former firefighter with the Elk Grove Rural Fire Protection District.

The curved stone wall memorial with all of the victims' names is not far from where the aircraft went down -- in a field less than a mile away from the runway at O'Hare.

"As we stand before this memorial today, let each one of us in our own way celebrate the lives of those who went before us," said Des Plaines Mayor Martin Moylan.

Hundreds of families of victims were in attendance for Saturday's dedication including Kim Jockl and Melody Smith who lost their parents, Bill and Corinne Borchers. The couple was headed to Hawaii for a second honeymoon.

"They're all remembered in one place. I think that's the best part. It's pure joy," Jockyl said.

The sisters say they've been trying for years to get some sort of commemoration for Flight 191 victims. For two years, a sixth grade class at the Decatur Classical Academy where Jockl is assistant principal lobbied lawmakers and American Airlines to get the memorial. The students' efforts paid off when they finally got the $20,000 to make the memorial happen.

"I'm just glad to do this for them. They deserved it," said Brittany Foster, a Decatur Classical Academy student.

After more than three decades of waiting, other relatives of Flight 191 victims were glad to finally have a place to mourn their loved ones.

"I have been waiting for quite a while and it is nice to finally see something in the end here, get some closure after 32 years," said Charles Davis, the son of a crash victim.

"We've gone up and been able to touch his name and we know he is there," said Jodie Adams, who lost her brother James.


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