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After 25 years, D/FW Airport unveils memorial to Delta Flight 191

08/01/2010 11:17 PM

10/15/2010 2:12 PM

D/FW AIRPORT -- Finally, a tribute to those who died in -- and those who survived -- the worst aviation disaster in Texas history will be etched in granite.

Today, Dallas/Fort Worth Airport officials unveiled a memorial to the crash of Delta Air Lines Flight 191 at Founders Plaza, the popular airport observation area near Texas 114/121 and Texan Trail.

The unveiling was 25 years to the day after the L-1011 jumbo jet plunged to the ground, killing 135 people and injuring 26, while trying to land during a fierce and sudden summer storm on the north end of D/FW. The crash rewrote the book on how pilots and others in the aviation industry cope with wind shear and other weather phenomena.

"Delta 191 educated the entire global aviation community about the danger of thunderstorms and wind shear in a way no other incident had before," said D/FW Airport chief executive Jeff Fegan.

Several first-responders and family members of victims attended the memorial ceremony today where a three-foot granite monument was dedicated. Two passengers aboard the fated airliner died years after the tragedy, including Kathy Christy Ford, the daughter of Burleson resident Bob Christy.

"We thought Kathy was killed until this fellow found my daughter quite sometime after the wreck," Christy said, adding that Kathy Ford was unconscious, in a coma. "For 10 years she was like that, and we were heart-broken."

She died on Dec. 11, 1995, at age 46.

Christy was pleased to see the airport erect a memorial to the victims and to honor the first responders on that day.

Joe Dealey of Dallas, who ran D/FW Airport's public affairs and media relations office from 1984 to 1999, said the memory of that evening is never far from his mind.

"It's like many bad memories we all share," he said. "Time has a way of ... taking the sting out. The recall of that evening can be triggered in unusual ways -- a big thunderstorm, the story of another big plane crash, someone reminding me and asking me, 'Gosh you were there. What was it like?'"

Despite the historical significance of the crash, for a quarter-century there were no physical reminders of that fateful day on airport property.

Airport officials believe it's time now to remember the victims and honor the hundreds of first responders who rescued survivors and dealt with the horrific aftermath, airport spokesman David Magana said. The granite memorial is about two miles west of the crash site.

"Our thoughts are always with the families of the customers, crew and employees lost on Flight 191 25 years ago," Delta said in a statement Monday morning. "As a result of this tragedy, significant advancements in aviation safety were made that have benefited the entire global industry.

"The safety of our customers and employees remains our No. 1 priority every day."

After Flight 191 went down, firefighters, police and many other officials with the airport's in-house public safety department as well as neighboring cities such as Grapevine and Irving spent days recovering bodies and preserving evidence, and then dealing with the psychological effects of what they had seen.

After the crash, wind-shear detection equipment was installed at airports worldwide and made mandatory on commercial planes, Magana said.

Prime time

Delta Air Lines Flight 191 went down in prime time. At 6:05 p.m. Aug. 2, 1985, a Friday afternoon, television stations were in the midst of their newscasts when the flight from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., flew into a storm.

The plane, on approach to Runway 17L, encountered a microburst with winds up to 84 mph that shoved the wide-body jet to the ground.

The plane first struck a vehicle on Texas 114, killing a motorist, and then briefly went airborne again before crashing in a soggy field, killing 136 others. In the final impact, the left wing struck the ground, then the wing and cockpit hit water tanks on airport property, spinning the fuselage counterclockwise.

Most of the plane disintegrated, although the charred tail was preserved. In photos, the tail section became a widely recognized symbol of the crash.

The flight crew had very little warning. Crew members saw the storm while approaching D/FW but remained mostly unalarmed, according to transcripts of their on-board conversations recovered by flight recorders.

They lost control of the aircraft in a mere 38 seconds.

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