Charlie Fuller's Remarks
Flight 1420 Anniversary Memorial Service
June 1, 2000

 

On behalf of the survivor's planning committee, I would like to thank the National Transportation Safety Board and the City of Little Rock for your assistance in making today's events possible. Special thanks to Mayor Jim Dailey and Governor Huckabee for your presence today and your thoughtful words of comfort. Your presence here today is both an honor to us, but, more importantly, a significant element of healing for our group. We are most grateful.

A year has passed. A year since panic, trauma, and desperation. A year of physical struggle. A year of emotional process. A year of trying to measure what's been lost. A year of trying to determine what comes next.

We gather today as survivors, as families, colleagues, friends, spouses, and parents of those who have been injured or killed. I suppose I ended up in front of you today because I am a member of each of these groups.

During the last year we've reviewed the events of June 1 – 2, 1999 . We've replayed the moments of the approach and crash of an airplane. We've replayed the moments of searching in desperation for any kind of escape from utter chaos, and we've replayed the moments of broken and burned people needing help in the midst of fire and torrential wind, rain, and hail. Family, friends, and strangers, all rendered equal by imminent disaster.

We remember those whom we've lost. Grandparents, parents, children, and siblings. Co-workers, colleagues, classmates, and treasured students. Friends of acquaintance and friends of the heart. Real, warm, flesh and blood human beings. Not just names on a passenger manifest. Not just a part of the latest news report. People who loved and were themselves loved. People who literally changed the lives of those they knew. People who died needlessly, all before their time was up.

We also remember today those whose bodies and minds have been damaged by physical and emotional trauma. All of us in one way or another have been violated both mentally and physically by this event.

But let us remember today how far many of us have come as we also take note of how far many of us have yet to go. Both physical and emotional healing can be an elusive mirage, seeming sometimes close enough to reach out and touch and at other times as far as the horizon obscured in a dense fog. We've all experienced the confusion, the memory loss, the nightmares, the lack of motivation, the lack of focus of those who have been traumatized. All of this and more we've experienced as we struggle still to try to become somehow whole again.

Let us also remember those who have given care for us in these days. Caregivers who have met us at the crash site, in the emergency room, in the doctor's office, in the sanctuary of the counselor or psychiatrist, or at the funeral home as we buried our loved ones. This has become their experience as well. Marking many of them in ways they never expected.

Let us not forget today to replay those moments of the human spirit reaching out to their fellow man. Let us not forget untrained heroes moving within and without a broken airplane risking physical safety to remove complete strangers from absolutely imminent danger.

As is so often the case, the worst moments of human greed, carelessness, and arrogant error are often followed by the very best moments of human heroism and courage. Courage unplanned and unexpected, offered without thought or preparation. Offered simply as a reaction, a true contrast to the planned and deliberate acts and carelessness that brought them to calamity.

May we today not only remember those we've lost and what we've lost, but also celebrate in some way this triumph of the human spirit. A triumph of the human spirit that has brought together a diverse group of total strangers to plan and make arrangements for this day of remembrance.

We are a unique group. It is seldom that this many people survive an airplane crash. May we continue to realize that we have each other upon which to call and may we realize that the ultimate path toward recovery is to help others. While we rightly wear the label “survivor” may we choose not to wear the label “victim.” Victimhood is a choice that leads to desperation and despair. May each of us choose a better way out. A way out that focuses on what we can do for each other, for those around us, for the flying public.

What comes after the remembering? I think the passengers agree on this: That we want to do our part to see that no one else has to go through such a needless tragedy. We challenge all airlines, and American in particular, to change the culture that brought this tragedy to pass. We challenge all the airlines to truly put safety first and make their actions match their rhetoric.

As we remember, we must not forget the truth that comes in faith. Faith leads us to the truth is that this life is not all there is. When the winds of life blow around us and even blow us to the ground, we must remember whose power calms the seas around us, whose truth gives life purpose and meaning, and whose love makes grace possible between us.

On behalf of all of the groups I represent, may I express to the families of those that lost their lives our wish for your healing in the midst of loss. For those whose bodies and minds have been violated, may your continuing road to recovery be as short as possible and may you soon become whole again.

 


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