Susan Rabe Oakes, South Carolina

International Fellowship Student

Missed the Plane   

August 9, 1970 started out just as any other day up to that point. My Peruvian sister and I had just celebrated our 17th birthdays (Faby on the 7th and me on the 8th). It was the weekend so we were still in celebration mode. We were eating dinner when the phone call came that would change all of us forever.

Nilda, our best friend, was near hysteria on the phone. "Turn on the news. I can’t talk. Just turn on the news." And she hung-up in tears. So we turned on the news and watched in horror as the picture of the Lansa jet laying on the countryside and countless bodies laying covered on the ground was shown on the TV screen. We heard the reporter saying that the plane had crashed and burned near Cuzco, killing all aboard but the student co-pilot. Among the dead were 49 North American exchange students sponsored by International Fellowship Buffalo, New York. We-my Peruvian family and I-all looked at each other and were suddenly in a family huddle, crying and thanking God that our birthdays had kept Faby and I from going on that trip to see the Incan ruins at Macchu Picchu.

Meanwhile, back home in Wantagh, Mom & Dad had gone to bed without watching the news that nigh. They had no idea what had happened. My brother’s best friend heard the news on the radio in his car. He went home and spent the night making dozens of calls until he learned for certain that I was not on that plane. Then he called Mom & Dad and told them that I was safe. Mom & Dad called me at my Peruvian home that Monday night to hear for themselves that I was safe. I can only imagine the immense relief they felt in hearing my voice at the other end of the phone line. Relieved that I was safe, yet deeply saddened by the tragedy, we said our good-byes and hung-up.

A few weeks later I arrived back home. School started again and life went back to "normal." Yet, I was changed. The lessons that Mom had taught me about enjoying each day as if it were the last hit me square in the face. Here I was only 17 years old, a senior in high school, and already had been spared a sadness for the families of the students who had perished on that plane. Mom had saved all the newspaper articles she could for me about the accident. But my life had been spared and it was time for me to get on with it.

Nearly 30 years later, I still get cold chills thinking about that tragic day and how had it not been for my birthday, I wouldn’t have had any more birthdays to celebrate. I’ve celebrated 28 more birthdays since then and have been thankful for every one of them. Mom died of breast cancer two months before her 57th birthday. She never "fibbed" about her age...she just said "it’s better than the alternative" and went about her business. And that’s the way I’ve always been as well.

On my 40th birthday my family gathered around me for an engagement party. I had waited a long time to meet the man with whom I could spend the rest of my life. When Sam came into my life, I knew he was that one man. He already had a son of his own, so I had a ready-made family. We got married the day after Thanksgiving and have been happy ever since. Sam is my very best friend and I am his, which is the way it should be, as far as I’m concerned.

I am eternally grateful to God for the 28 years I’ve had that the other "kids" did not have. My life has been good. I’ve had my share of sad times, but I’m just happy to still be alive! When the chips are down, I just make myself count my blessings. What else is there for me to do?!

I have my life and the love of my life. I still have my father and brother, too. I have a great stepson and a wonderful set of in-laws, too. What more could I ask for?!

Jeff Feldman, New York

Sister: Jerilyn Feldman

I keep thinking about Mom and Dad.

With four children of my own, I keep thinking of Mom and Dad, and how they survived to raise three children after this horrific tragedy.

I know that Dad never got over it, and took it to his grave. How cruel, to live most of your adult life after burying your child. It just does not seem right.

I, unfortunately, only have two memories of my sister Jerilyn. One was all of the kids on their hands and knees helping Jerilyn look for her contact lens that she dropped into the shag carpet.

The second was while I was playing in the driveway. Mom and Jerilyn came home from a haircut. Jerilyn went from long hair to short hair. Really short hair. I had a good laugh at her expense that day.

Only two memories of my 17 year old sister. To this day that still bothers me. If I had only known, what would I have done differently?

I was eleven years old at the time. Looking back, I should have remembered more. I cannot explain why I remember so little.

My childhood was terrific even with this loss. Mom and Dad, while dealing with their own grief, raised me with outstanding morals and an appreciation for life and how precious it is. They knew first hand, didn’t they?

Steve, I think I’ve cried more in the last few months discussing this website and reading everyone’s E-mails than I have my entire life. While it is difficult to talk about, or think about, it is something that must be done.

Steve, your tenacity for this project will help hundreds of people from all walks of life put some closure to that horrible day, almost 30 years ago. Be proud of what you have accomplished. Without your vision and passion this would never have happened.

How many brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, teachers, coaches, and friends have been affected by this tragedy. In time, even the people who still cannot deal with this, I believe will visit this site and I hope better be able to deal with it.

It might be easy to not think or talk about this for some, while others are consumed by it. But in the end this memorial site will help everyone in his or her own way to heal, even 30 years later.

Patricia Messenger, Maryland

Sister: Linda Moore

At the time of the crash I was only 5, so I don’t really remember too much about the whole incident.

In talking with my parents through the years about Linda, my parents would tell me that I looked to her for my comfort instead of going to mom or dad. It greatly saddens me that I never got to know Linda.

From hearing what others have said about her she was a caring, giving, beautiful (inside and out) person.

I know on that fateful day my life--along with my parents--was changed forever. I never fully realized what my parents experienced until I became a parent myself.

We have stayed in touch with Linda’s closest friends and they still comment on what an impact she had on their lives and how they credit her with what they are today. I truly believe that Linda is "up there" looking out for us.

A few years ago, my mom was very ill and almost didn’t make it, but I feel that Linda knew we needed her down here more than she needed her up there.

My children are curious about their Aunt Linda and ask questions about her. It’s hard to really tell them what happened. They can look at the scrapbooks and read the "Blue Book," but they’ll never get to truly know what a wonderful person Linda was, just like I didn’t.

I guess I feel kind of cheated out of knowing my sister, but what helped tremendously over the years was being able to talk about her with my parents. Yes, at times it’s painful (for all of us) but it does help. Each year when April 18th (Linda’s birthday) and August 9th come around I kind of pause and reflect on what it would have been like with Linda around.

Again, Linda was a generous, caring, loving person and I’m saddened by the fact I can’t remember her. But she will always be in our hearts.

Steve Feldman, New York

Sister: Jerilyn Feldman

    When I was ten, my father woke me up, and told me my sister had been killed in a plane crash.  We just hugged and cried. I haven't stopped crying since.

    But I can't really understand why. I can't remember her. God! I don't even know what her voice sounded like.

    All I remember from that time are the bad things. The crash. Seeing my sister on the cover of Newsday; hearing about the crash on WCBS radio; going to the police station to be fingerprinted [so her remains could be identified].

    For years, I had nightmares. I dreaded sleep, because I knew the same, nightmare would haunt me: a gasoline tanker, turning a corner, and, in a colorful blur, flipping over, and burning. And that was the least of it.

    Through it all, our family was close, so that made it easier. But we did not talk about Jerilyn, or the accident--ever. That's sad, because her death, at sixteen, was a defining moment in my life. Twenty-nine years later, it still is. King Solomon the Wise said, in Ecclesiastes, there is a time to be born, and a time to die.

    Just not this way, and this soon.