At D/FW Airport, victims, rescuers in 1985 crash get memorial

Patsy Weatherley didn't expect to cry on Monday.

After all, it had been 25 years since her sister Connie Shawl died when Delta Air Lines Flight 191 crashed during a thunderstorm at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.

But when Weatherley arrived for a ceremony where airport officials were to unveil a memorial, the tears began to fall.

"I really thought, you know, 'I'm not going to get emotional. It's been 25 years ago,'" said Weatherley, of Fort Worth. "But the minute we drove up and pulled into this area, I just started crying. It just kind of brings it all back, but that's OK."

The 3-foot-tall granite block with a plaque honoring the victims and first responders is at Founders Plaza, an airport observation area near Texas 114/121 and Texan Trail. It is about two miles from the field where the jet crashed as it arrived from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

At about 6 p.m. Aug. 2, 1985, the Delta L-1011 jumbo jet flew into a microburst as it approached Runway 17L on the east side of the airport. Winds up to 84 mph pushed the wide-body jet to the ground. The jet first hit a pickup on Texas 114, killing the driver, then went airborne again before crashing into a field and hitting water tanks on airport property.

"Delta 191 educated the entire global aviation community about the danger of thunderstorms and wind shear in a way no other incident had before," airport Chief Executive Jeff Fegan said at the dedication.

The plaque notes that 135 people died in the crash, including 126 of 152 passengers, eight of 11 crew members and the motorist. Three people later died from injuries suffered in the crash.

Several first responders and victims' relatives attended the ceremony. Burleson resident Bob Christy said he thought his daughter Kathy Christy Ford had died that day until she was found "some time after the wreck" in a coma.

"For 10 years she was like that, and we were heartbroken," he said. She died Dec. 11, 1995, at age 46.

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

Firefighter Paul Reese, now a battalion chief with the airport's Department of Public Safety, said he remembers being amazed that rescuers found survivors among the debris.

"When I arrived on scene, I expected to see an aircraft, because that was the way we trained, and there just wasn't an aircraft there," Reese said. "The only distinguishable part was the tail."

The crash led to several advances in air safety and pilot training for severe weather. D/FW now has a wind shear alert system that relays information to air traffic controllers, as well as its own Doppler radar to detect microbursts. Most commercial airliners are also equipped with nose cone sensors to detect wind shear at least 50 seconds in advance.

"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. "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."

Andrea Ahles, 817-390-7631

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