CHICAGO — Forty years ago, the nation’s worst aviation accident not related to terrorism happened just outside of O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.
American Airlines Flight 191 crashed and killed all 271 people on board. Two others on the ground were also killed.
For the family members of those on the doomed airplane, it’s been a long journey to find closure.
Sisters Kim Jockl and Melody Smith lost both of their parents, Bill and Corrine Borchers, who were on the plane from Chicago to Los Angeles. They were scheduled to board another flight for their vacation to Hawaii.
“It’s kind of like somebody disappears into thin air,” Jockl said. “It takes a long time, and it’s not pretty, and there’s a lot of heartache.”
As the aircraft reached takeoff speed, the primary engine ripped off, damaging both the wing and hydraulic systems.
“It was something bad,” former O’Hare engineer Leo Karall said. “You see something like that and you don’t know what’s going on.”
The plane had taken off, but quickly dipped and rolled to left. It was in the air for just 31 seconds.
A haunting photo caught the plane essentially sideways and suspended in the air just before it plunged into a field off of Touhy Avenue and exploded in flames.
“There was this crash sound, and clearly this huge cloud of smoke,” Gene Haring, a Des Plaines Park employee, said. “To this day, it’s still the worst air crash in American history.”
For decades the family has been searching for closure.
“I think you’re searching for a completion for your agony that you’ve gone through,” Smith said.
Smith and Jockl have worked with the Des Plaines Park District to plan a memorial ceremony that will be the largest gathering of the survivors ever to mark the 40th anniversary of the crash.
On Saturday, May 25, friends and family will meet at the Flight 191 memorial Wall in Lake Park in Des Plaines. The program will begin at 2:30 p.m., with a reading of the victims’ names and a moment of silence at 3:04 — the exact time of the crash.
From the WGN News archives: Original report on Flight 191 crash