American Airlines Flight 1420 Chronicle
by Barbara Heard

The events of June 1 & 2, 1999

The PC says the time is 2:48am. It is now June 3rd. I laid in bed as long as I could and now I am thinking that to get these words in my head out on paper could be the thing that allows me to sleep. I took a whole Valium tablet at 11:00 and you would think that I would not even be able to get up from the bed, much less type. The doctor told me to take a half-pill because of my low drug tolerance. I understand where I am, who I am, but do not understand why I am. My husband is in the guest bedroom, snoring. He is usually the one who is up and down all night and now he does not even know I am up. I awoke to find my baby in bed with me. I don’t know when he came in. He should be exhausted too, but something brought him to my bed. I feel the need to start at the beginning and get it all down on paper - to be sure I never forget. If I ever need to remind myself how precious life is, I want to be able to remember this night. I feel like crying; my breathing is heavy. I will start. Maybe it will help me to let go, clear my mind, and finally sleep.

As you read this, please remember that these statements are my attempts to record the flashbacks of thoughts and images that paint the full picture of what happened to me that night of June 1, 1999. To understand my story, I need for you to experience some of my life before and after the crash. I do not want you to ever experience the torment and fear I experienced that night, but rather discover through my story the way to find the peace and eternal assurance that comes to a soul that truly loves God and earnestly seeks after the His will.

Tuesday; June 1, 1999
My day started that morning June 1, up at 5 AM; plane leaves at 7:10. I am flying to Oklahoma City to work with a new salesperson, Cindy Bramlett. I am in a good mood because it is nice to be able to go help another employee. I like this training (consulting) work. I say my prayers as always before the plane takes off. I always pray that God will send angels to ride with us and protect us and bring me home to my son. We land, change planes in Dallas; same thing regarding prayers. We land in OKC uneventfully. Cindy is waiting on me. I get the Simplex bag I shipped and we leave for Stillwater to do our presentation. I like her, so the drive is not bad. At my request we go to lunch at Eskimo Joe’s, a place I just read about in Southern Living. I usually get car sick if the other person drives, especially after two plane rides, but there is much to talk about and teach her, so my mind cannot think of my stomach. I work on her PC as she drives. We have to be at our appointment at 1pm. The call goes well and last till 3 or a little later. We ride back to OKC airport and the plane does not leave for about an hour or so. Cindy is gracious enough to come inside and wait with me at the terminal gate. We talk about work stuff and I make her a to-do list a page long. I have my notes on what I need to do for her, too. Soon she leaves for her home and I don’t mind because I want to finish reading the most wonderful book, Left Behind. A group of Oriental people are converging all around me. It seems only one of their party is actually departing to Dallas, but the whole family is there to say bye. They even get in my chair when I go to the restroom. I left things in my chair, but that did not deter them; they sat in the chair with my things. I moved.

We learn the flight is being delayed from leaving OKC for a while because we cannot land in Dallas because of weather. I am a little aggravated not to be able to be with my son and husband, but I was getting in at 9:45, so I would not see them very long tonight anyway. I don’t want to fly in bad weather, so this delay is okay by me. I finish my book and decide to start the other one I had brought, Dean Koontz’ Mr. Murder. I drank two bottles of water so I go to the bathroom a couple of times and wash my face to make myself feel better. I bought some expensive non-fat oriental cracker things, but it is not too good - I should give it to the oriental group to finish. I also bought some yogurt covered raisins; they are better, and good for me. I drink my Snapple and eat and read. This will be my supper; I feel guilty that the airport food is expensive, but Simplex is paying and I have to eat before flying or I get sick. I put the two food bags in my purse as if they are treasures. The purse cannot even zip all the way, but I want to save the food. This seems so trivial now. After a couple of hours, we are allowed to board to leave for Dallas. I am told everything in Dallas is delayed, so I should be able to make my connection as it should have been delayed too. That will be good if I can get on my normal flight and not be inconvenienced any more. I have already been inconvenienced enough just to go help a fellow new employee learn her job. I know that could sound mean, but I don’t mean it to be. I like doing it. I want to turn my sales career for Simplex into more of a training/consulting role and I must prove myself worthy. I want Cindy to do well. She has really good possibilities and we need to have more good sales reps.

The flight to Dallas is normal, but people are worried about making connections. I am tired and would like to make mine, but am prepared to not be upset if I don’t. I have to change terminals - always an ordeal. I don’t run, I just walk quickly because whatever will be, will be. I do stop to check the monitor and it says that my flight 1420 has been delayed and will part depart at 10:30. It is 9:50 and changing terminals in Dallas takes 20 minutes. I am very hopeful; things should be fine and I should make my flight and get home. Once I get to the correct terminal, I have a long walk. I can see that there are a lot of people waiting at the gate before I get there, so that is a good sign; the plane has not left without me. I check in at the ticket counter. No wait there; all the other passengers have checked in and it is obvious they have been waiting some time. I ask how long to boarding time and she says 20 minutes. Does not seem long, but from experience I know it is long enough to go into Chili’s, which is right beside our gate, and get a salad and coke. I need a full stomach or I get sick when flying. I am tired. I order and tell the waiter to go on and bring me the ticket, I do not want to miss this flight. I have plenty of time to eat and read in my new book. I use the restroom and wait with the other passengers of 1420. Like cattle they begin boarding. I have seat 9D and they are boarding the back first, so I get in line and lean on the AA ticket counter and try to read. A girl and two boys are talking beside me. I stare at her because she looks like Pippi Longstocking with her braided hair. But the braids go down, not out like Pippi’s. She is cute, probably about 20; Its hard to tell age these days. It takes a long time to board. I did not recognize the name of the plane on my ticket - MD 80, but I knew it must be big to hold all these people. I was glad. I hate to fly American Eagles, because I think they have a higher chance of crashing. I am grateful for bigger planes.

I say my prayers as always, asking God to send angels to get us there safety. I look at some women up at the front of the line and ask myself; “will this be the group of people I crash and die with?” I sometimes wonder this, so it was not an unusual thought. I rode in first class on my way to OKC, but not coming back. The first class was the only seat available and because of the short notice Simplex had to pay $200 extra for that privilege. It was my first time; it was okay. I liked the room and leather seats but it seemed arrogant of me to not sit with the regular passengers. I was not totally sure if seat 9D would have me in first class or in the regular section, but I figured first class only went to row 5 or 6. That was okay with me. I had really rather be with the regular people, because that is what I am. Anyway, they do not even have tray tables in first class and I still wonder how they eat a meal. I think about where is the best spot to sit on a plane if it crashes. But how can you know; every crash would be different. I guess it is the luck of the draw. I finally take my seat – 9D. This is one of those flights that I do not care about anyone around me and what they look like or where they are going, It is late and I want to go home. I am on the three-seat side of the plane and in the aisle. The aisle is better for getting off faster and is okay with me. I had rather not look out the window anyway – it makes me sick to watch a landing. The man beside me says this is his first time to Little Rock. The woman beside him says the same for her and they chat a minute. I gather he is from Alltel but I do not feel like talking. I do tell him that my best friend and my sister work for Alltel and he says he is from California. I did not know they had an Alltel office out there. They are chatting and questioning about hotel distances when they get there, but I do not feel like being nice and discussing it with them. I start to read. I think the weather has been bad, and it may be raining , but it must be safe to take off, or we would not be doing it. I read.

My left leg is feeling funny, like I need to shake it or something. I try to concentrate on reading and begin to squeeze my leg to release whatever tension is going on with it. This is not normal, but this flight is not normal. So what’s new; we are not even on the plane that we are suppose to be on. The airlines has switched planes so we could go on to LR. When we get closer to LR the lightning starts and all the passengers around me have their window shades open to see out. I look, but don’t like it. I have never seen lighting so constant or frequent. It was unusual to me, I even doubted if it were lightning. Was there some kind of lights attached to the sides of the plant that I was not use to? I thought it was a stupid question to ask the Alltel man beside me so I did not. No one else seemed bothered by it and no one was talking. I wondered if they were not talking because they thought it unusual to be flying in such bad weather. Where they scared; or was this normal – I did not know. I kept trying to read, to sleep, to squeeze my leg to release tension, but nothing seemed to work. I hoped the Alltel man was not getting annoyed at my movements; I tried to keep them down. I remember the pilot saying we would be there in 20 minutes, but we could not land yet. I thought we must be circling because of the bad weather. I hoped angels would help us land. They could be out there on the wings and fly just fine; I know it. I felt the landing gear go down, like normal. I do not remember the pilot saying anything about seeing a light show, like I heard on TV. How could I have missed that one, or did I hear it and don’t remember? It seems we stayed up for some time after the landing gear was ready, I was wondering why. I could tell the pilot had started on our descent.

The lightning seemed as bad as ever and I was trying to focus on breathing and staying normal. The plane was shaking and I did not want to get sick. I was ready to land and be safe. The plane started to shake more violently, and I was scared. The plane then touched the ground, but just as quickly went back up and then it touched down again and went back up. I wondered if the pilot was changing his mind about landing. I ask the Alltel guy; “Is he going to be able to land this plane?”. He looked at me; his eyes were big and wild and I knew he was scared. I knew if he was scared, I should be too. He did not speak. His face and eyes told me answer – we were in big trouble. Then the plane touched the ground again and I knew in my heart the pilot was trying to brake and stop us, but we were not slowing down. It felt like we where traveling on land as fast as we had traveled in the air. I longed for that usual stopping, jarring feeling. It did not come. I waited for the feeling, that normal kind of jar. I wanted that jar feeling to come, even if it was the biggest jar feeling I had every felt, even if hurt me to feel it, I wanted to feel it I looked at the Alltel guy and we both knew instantly to get down, the plane was not stopping. I remembered that movie where people where hit by flying pieces of the plane and I did not want to die like that, so I got as far down as my body would possibly let me. He seemed to be over me some. It was seconds, but this is how I remember it. I know I was leaning to my right on him, because that let me get farther down. I wanted to die crushed, not by being hit by flying plane parts. I thought; “I am going to die in a plane crash, who would have thought it?” I have wondered sometimes how I will die, and I had my answer - crushed on a plane. I thought we might be running into a building or something and kill a lot of people; they must be scared to see us coming so fast.

The next few moments are a blur. We jolted and turned and crashed. I thought the crash was death. But, thank God, seconds later, I could hear the Alltel guy asking if I was all right. I could not speak. He ask again. I could not speak. There was silence. Was I alive? Could I still be here? I could not answer, but I could hear him. I slowly raised up, I was all right. I felt wet all over (this was from the jet fuel, but I did not know that at the time). The inside of the plane was black. I noticed a man’s shadow to my left , he was moving fast and he said “Get your seat belts off and get out!”. I said to myself; “I can do that”. I did not think about anyone besides me. I jumped up and saw that seats to my left where not there. That was my hole; my way out! I could see light and I knew it was from fire. Would we explode next? I smelled fuel or something not normal. I took the steps forward in what was the aisle, but the seats were gone to my left. At that time I was not even caring about those people; I just wanted out. I lost one shoe getting out the hole; who cares, I thought. I knew the plane would blow up. I knew the smartest thing to do was get away. I looked to my right and saw what was supposed to be the cockpit. I saw flames, but I am still not sure exactly where they were coming from. I thought; “The pilot crew is dead”. I knew it would blow up. I took a few steps on the ground and hit water. Where was the water from? I did not know. It did not matter to me; I was out of the plane! The wind was fierce, the rain was hard and I could not see much. I was walking into blackness, but that seemed better than a plane that would blow up. I thought that I should go back and help someone, but I thought; “I can’t go back. I am a mommy. Let the men do that.” It was a selfish thought, but I guess survival instinct had taken over. I fell in the water; it was up to my waist now. It was hard to walk with the wind pushing me down in the water.

The lightning and thunder was strong and seemed constant. I thought the lightning would get me next. I learned later the wind was 80 to 90 miles an hour and it was raining at a 7 inch-per-hour rate. I went under the water and fought to stand back up. There seemed to be a couple of people up ahead of me. I could tell some people where behind me; I could hear their screams. I thought I should turn around, but I chose to continue to try to save myself. I thought of my child, he needed me to live. I picked a woman up that had fallen in the water; she got her balance and then it was back to each of us trying to make it on our own. I told myself; “I can do this, I can do this, I can do this”. I kept hearing the screams. I looked back at the site I had miraculously walked out of and the back of the plane was on fire as well as the front. The blaze and the lighting were the only light to show me any kind of way in the water. It was pitch black. I wondered if I would drown when I was pushed by the wind under the water. I wondered if I was walking into the river or away from the river. Every step was taking so much effort. At some point I stopped to look all around in the distance to see if land or buildings or lights could be seen, but nothing was there. The rain started to come harder and it was hurting, it was hail. I learned later that it was the size of quarters and with the 80 mph wind, it was tormenting me. I was falling and getting up and falling and getting up to go farther into the black. There were some other people. I knew I was not alone, but then again I was. I know that I was urinating in the water, “who cares”, I thought.

I cannot remember any experience I have ever had that has yielded as much fear. I wondered if I would die in the water or be struck by lightning, or drown if the water got deeper. I wondered if I was blessed to have survived the plane crash, or was this just the beginning of another form of death. Finally, I got to where the water seemed to be shallower and the land went upward a little bit into waist deep grass. I wondered what was in front of us, but I feared it to much to find out. Whatever it was, it was black. I looked again to see which way to go, but there were no airport lights, nothing. Where were we, some island in the river? I looked back at the plane and I could hear screaming people. I wondered if they where burning? I saw a woman near me hunkered down in the tall grass and I thought she seemed to need someone so I covered her head from the hail and held her as best I could. There was a man; standing. He crouched down with us. I ask her; “If we die tonight, are you saved?” She said yes, but that she had not been living right. I told her none of us do and I told her what Romans 3:23 says; “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”. I was glad I had memorized that one, because she seemed to need it. We thought we could die from the lightning or this might be a tornado coming. I ask the man; “If we die tonight, do your know where you are going?” He did not answer me. He stood up. I stood up and I think I was talking loudly at him. I got in his face and asked again loudly; “If we die tonight, do you know where you will go?” He said; “I hope to heaven. I think I will go to heaven”. I was mean and told him; “That is not good enough!”. Then I seemed to come to my senses and realize it was a mean thing to say. I was silent, and he was silent. I felt sorry for him. We had almost been crushed to death, burned to death, drowned, and now we were waiting to see if the lightning or a tornado would get us, and he was not sure where he would go – heaven or hell. What a terrible feeling for him. I was glad I knew God held me in his arms I would go to heaven. I was just trying to tell him that he should be sure, but I could not verbalize the right choice of words.

I got back down and held the lady. I asked her name; she answered; “Sharon”. I asked; “Where are you from?”. She said; “Jonesboro”. I asked if she was a mommy? She said; “Yes, three girls”. I asked their ages. She told me. I then realized I had to use the bathroom again and thought; “What should I do?” I quickly thought; “who cares, I will just urinate on me and this lady. She won’t care”. I wondered if she knew, but I also knew she would not mind as long as we held onto each other. Someone was screaming in our group for a person who knew CPR; a man needed it . I looked at him, and it scared me. I looked at the frantic people with him. I wondered; “Is CPR mouth-tomouth?” I could not think. I decided if I could not be of help, I could look away. I decided I could pray for him – whoever he was. I prayed out loud to remind the woman from Jonesboro to pray with me too. A young adult girl was screaming; “where is ___?”. Some others were telling her: “It is all right”. She was screaming; “It is not all right! It is not all right!” I looked at her and she was standing knee deep in the water, frantically raising her arms and falling around. I hoped she could find the missing person and get settled down. Someone said we should go back. I thought: “There is no way we could or should go back. We could be killed by the lightning or the plane blowing up”; but I did not speak out. I continued to crouch with the woman from Jonesboro and tell her we could not go back to help anyone, but we could pray for them. I prayed out loud for a long time.

I started singing Amazing Grace to this woman. I hoped our group would be able to hear me and begin singing too. I don’t know if anyone but her heard me. It was so loud, with the hail and rain and the awful thunder. I could hear some saying; “Hail Mary, Mother of Jesus”, followed by more words. I was not familiar with the words. They said it over and over. I wondered why they did not just prayer directly to Jesus. He could do something to answer their prayers. But I know this is the Catholic way. I knew they were religious people and that was enough for me. The hail was hitting on my body and stinging. I remember the lightning flashed and I saw things crawling around on my legs and arms. I felt things in my hair.

Once, I noticed a very big creature, about like a mason jar lid, just above my knee. It was moving. I did not even try to wipe if off. It seemed okay. I looked back at the burning plane and thought anything was better than being back there. One woman in our group could not breathe. I told her to stay down near the ground and water to get the cleanest air. Another woman offered her a sweater to breathe through. She was choking. (She seemed to have blonde hair and be in her 50’s or so). The fierce wind and the driving rain and the hail and the terrifying lightning and thunder were tormenting us. I expected to get struck by lightning. Could it be possible to have been so fortunate to survive a plane crash and then have the misfortune to be hit by lightning? I seemed a long, long time before we heard rescue units coming. I wondered if it just seemed like a long time or was it really so long? Why did it take them so long? Didn’t they see a burning plane and smoke filled sky? How could they take so long? It seemed to take forever to hear or see rescue units. Finally they came to the plane. We knew without saying that they had a job to do around the plane for those less fortunate than us. I wondered if we were the only ones that got out or where there other groups. We said a few words about how they should get to those that need help at the plane first.

We waited. We waited. We waited. People in our group were getting impatient and tired of not being rescued. I was too. I was ready for this nightmare to end. There was somewhere between 10 and 15 in our group. I wondered why they did not have a big spot light to just shine over the water. Or why did they not have people coming out in the water to look for other people. When would it end? We all wanted an ending. It seemed like almost an hour, and later we knew that it had been. Some man suggested that on the count of three we would all scream “help” and maybe they would realize we were out there. Some even stood up to scream; “Over here”. I could not. I wondered how they had so much energy. What was wrong with me, not to be able to stand and wave my hands and scream. I was dependent on the others to call out to the rescue people. I was glad they were strong. The “help” cries worked. A rescuer heard us and made his way to us and told us to form a line and follow him out; back through the water. We went out a little different way; the water was not as high. I did not have anyone to hold. I clenched my fist and told myself over and over, out loud; “I can do this. I can do this…” I was talking out loud, but I did not care. It was helping me to take each step back through the water; dark steps, each one unknown.

We walked to a bus thing, it looked like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. It was not very big. There were also ambulances. I was shaking and my body seemed out of control. I noticed a rescue person staring at my legs. He would shine a flashlight at my legs and then look at someone else. He came back to my legs with the flashlight several times. I looked down to see what he was looking at. My hose where in shreds, but still attached. My feet were bare. Blood was streaking down my leg and things had been trapped in the shredded hose; river muck, sticks, and crawly creatures. I noticed I was the only one in our group without shoes and in business clothes. I guess that was due to the time of the flight. Most had on tennis shoes or flat shoes. I would have liked that. He finally asked me if I had hose on, I nodded yes and he said okay. He had wanted me to go in the ambulance. I am not sure what he was thinking about my legs and the shaking. I did not see a need for me to be in the ambulance; it should be used for someone with severe injuries. Blood streaked panty hose with trapped debre was so “nothing” compared to burning and broken victims.

I chose to get on the bus and go wherever they wanted us to go. I sat down on the bus next to a little girl. I hugged her and asked her; “Where are your parents?” She said, “My daddy is helping people get out of the plane and my mother is with my sister”. I asked her; “Where is your sister?”. She said; “She is burning”. I held her tight and I prayed out loud for her sister and family. I started singing Amazing Grace and she joined in. Then I started singing Our God is an Awesome God and she knew that one too. Next, we sang Lord I Lift Your Name on High. We rocked and I tried to be a substitute Mommy for her - for the moment. While all this was going on, I noticed another young girl with her knees toward me in the aisle. She was rocking and getting hysterical. The bus seemed to be another place that we could die. The driver had never driven a bus before (so someone said), and we were not able to get turned around to leave the scene. The bus would go a few feet back and people would scream “no, no, you are going to get in the water”. He would go a few feet up and people would scream the same thing. He was trying to turn around but each foot was a critical maneuver. I thought of the “duck” incident in Hot Springs and wondered if we would plunge into the river. I knew if the bus slipped away into the river it would fill instantly with water and there would not be time to get out. Some people asked if we should get off the bus and take our chances in the water, and lightning. I thought about it, but how could I leave these girls? I had to stay calm for them.

Some adults where not calm. I wondered how much one could take; how many times could you fear death in one night and not collapse or get hysterical. While I was comforting the child sitting next to me and listening to the other child wail and moan and rock, I started getting irritated at the adults that were around her. They were telling her it would be okay, but they would not hold her. I thought; “She needs to be held!” I started to scream at them to hold her, but I thought it best not to. I told the girl beside me I would have to let her go for a minute to get this other child. I took her in my arms and ask her name. I think she said Erin. I asked; “Where are your parents?”; hoping they were not dead. She said in Utah or Canada or some northern state. I was so glad that they were not dead for her sake. I asked what she was doing in Little Rock and she told me she was coming to her grandparents in Pine Bluff. I was so grateful she would have them waiting on her. I wondered how they felt not knowing if their grandchild was dead or alive. I knew they would be glad to see her. She was saying something over and over and rocking. I could not understand her. She was loud enough, just not understandable. I made her repeat it at least three times before I understood. She was saying “I want my mommy”. My heart sank and I assured her that she would get her mommy. I was glad to be her mommy for the moment. It seemed to take about 20 to 30 minutes to get the bus turned around to leave.

One woman had to get off; she could not take it. She was shaking, crying and waving her hands in the air. I wanted to get off with her, but I could not leave these children. The bus finally got turned around to leave and someone said we were going to be taken to a hanger. When I walked inside the hanger building I sat on the floor. There were other people already in the hanger. There were two phones on a desk and people immediately began making phone calls. I waited on about four people and then decided it could be my turn. I just wanted Joe to come get me. When he answered I could not talk. I broke down for the first time and collapsed to the floor. Someone came to me and held me so I could hold the phone enough to speak. I told him the plane had crashed and come get me. He did not understand. I told him I was in a hanger. He still did not understand, probably because of all my crying. I read the number on the phone to him so he would know where I was. I told him to get Connie, my sister, over to stay with Seth. I said; “DO NOT BRING HIM WITH YOU!”; I did not want him to see these circumstances. I put the phone down and let others make their calls.

I went back to sitting up against a wall. I heard someone throwing up and thought that was a reasonable thing to do. I watched a man wave a piece of paper and say we should make a list of our names. That sounded like a good idea. I could not understand how he had such clear thinking and ability to walk and talk. I heard people talking about their experiences and it did not make sense to me that they could even stand or communicate. I looked at my feet and pulled off some black thing, a living creature, that was attached to my toe. I just slung it down on the floor and did not even look to see what it was; it did not matter. A rescue person came to me and wanted me to go with him. I shook my head no. Another man urged me to go too, but I thought the ambulances should be for more serious injuries. I think they thought I was in shock. Maybe I was. I could not stop shaking; my legs were bouncing against the floor like grease in a skillet. Finally someone gave me a blanket to put over my legs. A nice man came and told me; “You did the best you could”. I told him; “I did not go back in the plane to help, I just got out to save myself. He repeated; “You did the best you could”. I replied; “But there are dead people back there. We left a grave site”. He comforted me.

There was a young woman sitting in a chair voicing anger that the pilot had tried to land the plane. I wondered if she knew he was dead. She kept talking loud and angrily and I wanted her to stop but I could not tell her to. How could she be so unreasonable after what had just happened; or was she justified? I did not know. Finally, someone from American Airlines came and told us to form three lines and sign another piece of paper with our names. I did. They told us we were going to get on a bus and go to the IMAX Theater where we would be picked up. I wondered if Joe would be there. When the bus pulled up, I could see the news people and other people waiting. I hoped that he was there to get me quickly. He was. He swooped me away as I came out of the bus. I do not remember much about the ride home. When we got home, Connie helped me to get my suit and torn hose off. I showered and washed my hair twice to get the smell out. It was jet fuel. I sat on the couch and told them what had happened, not totally sure they were believing me.

About 4:00 am, I told Joe to call my boss, Larry Wilson, and tell him I was okay. I knew we would wake him up, but I did not want him to get up the next morning and see the news without knowing I was okay. He is always up on news events and he would know it was my plane. We were going to bed and I thought I would sleep for a long, long time. No such luck, I was back awake a 6:00. I immediately turned the TV on. I confirmed in my mind what I had been through. I called my mother and told her to turn the TV on. I went back to sleep about 10 AM and woke up again at noon on Wednesday. Joe had a doctor’s appointment scheduled for me at 1:00 PM to have me checked out. I was okay in the doctor’s office until the end and then I had to leave. I broke down in the hall outside his office. I just wanted to go home.

The phone started ringing; friends, relatives, reporters, newspapers, all calling. Joe was screening the calls and I only talked to a couple of people. I lay in the bed, not sleeping, just thinking of the event over and over. I could not think of anything else. I wanted to talk to my pastor, Brother Jim. I had to know if God was mad or disappointed in me for not going back in the plane to help others. I needed his opinion. The plane did not blow up like I feared when I was leaving it. If I had known it would not blow up, I would have tried to help. How could I live with my decision? How could I be happy about being alive when so many were hurt or dead? I could not really celebrate my life. I was praising God that he spared me and brought me home to my child and husband, but I could not celebrate. There were families planning funerals. The pilot was dead, he left a family behind. Why did God choose to spare me? I think so I could be a mommy to Seth and share God’s word with others. Jesus is our Savior and many do not believe. I have always had a strong faith, but things are different now.

         Dr. Menard thought I should see a psychiatrist. They made an appointment with one Joe wanted for Thursday at     12:30.

Thursday, June 4, 1999
Joe called the two phone numbers shown on the TV for American Airlines on Wednesday because they still did not have everyone accounted for. I wanted them to be sure and know I was okay. They had not called me yet, but the TV said each survivor would have a care team member assigned to them. I wondered why they had not called. I guessed they were busy.

I watched each news program; each news conference with the NTSB. I waited to hear about the other missing people. It was important for me to find out about them. I needed to know if people died that were in those left aisle seats that had disappeared from the plane. I needed to know if the hole I escaped through was because someone else had died. I went out on the left side of the plane, where seats had been; but then they were gone.

      I took 1 ½ Valium tablets and still did not sleep more than a few hours. Getting this down on paper seems to be helping.

The psychiatrist started the meeting by asking; “What can I do for you?” I thought that was a silly question; he was suppose to tell me what he could do for me. I could not look at him in the face. I immediately asked him if he was a Christian or not? He hesitated and I thought I should leave if he was not, and I should tell him about Jesus. He said he was, he was Methodist and he said he had a strong faith. I told him some of what had happened. I told him I did not want to fly or drive or work again. I told him I was scared that I would not come back home alive if I left to go to work. He was understanding, but that is his job. I ask him if he thought I was crazy, he certified me to not be crazy. I am scheduled to go back in a couple of weeks. I should know this is therapeutic since I am married to a professional counselor.

After we left the psychiatrist’s office I wanted to go to the airport to see what I was suppose to do about things such as my purse, license, credit cards, etc. I walked to the ticket counter and told them who I was. They said I should have a care team member assigned to me and I told them no one had called (we have caller ID and an answering machine). They insisted someone had tried; they must not have my number. I was nice enough, but I told the lady that every newspaper and TV station from LR to Dallas had my number, why didn’t they. The ticket reservation was made with my home address and phone number. This did not make sense to me. When we left she said someone would call me. She ran back out to my car and said she had found a care team member and asked if I would I wait to talk to her. We did. This person said there would be a meeting with the survivors and family members with AA and the NTSB at 5:00 at the Excelsior Hotel. It was 3:00. We drove home and left again for the Excelsior at 4:15. If I had not gone to the airport myself, I would not have known about the meeting. It seemed to me that AA was not handling the situation well.

Meeting with AA and NTSB at Excelsior Hotel: Thursday; June 3rd, 5:00PM
The meeting started off okay, the Mayor of Little Rock, the safety director of AA, the head of the NTSB all spoke; all glad we were alive. Everyone let them speak and then they opened the floor for questions. “Pippi Longstocking’s” father was sitting beside me. (I must call her that since I don’t know her name.) He was telling how they had waited and waited and had not been told anything by AA. I realized they waited from 9:30 to 2:30 before they got their daughter or knew she was all right. How terrible. They were told the airport is closing and to go over to the IMAX Theater. The safety man for AA did not make any excuse, except to say that LR is a small airport and not equipped with a lot of personnel to handle things like this. Another woman, very articulate, who had been waiting to pick up a friend from California, really put the AA man in his place. The passenger’s husband in California had still not been called by AA to tell him his wife was okay. I think she was in the hospital. The only way the man knew anything was because of his wife’s friend. This was Thursday afternoon at 5:00; how could that be? We realized Joe knew more than most standing there that night to get me from the bus; he knew there was a crash because I had called him.

Our care team women were waiting outside the meeting for me. They are nice people, just trying to help. I understand it is a volunteer job for them. They tell us to meet them at the Holiday Inn Airport in the morning to go to the crash site. I want to go. I want to see what happened; I still don’t understand it all. They asked me if I needed anything at all. I told them I wanted to know the pilot’s name, his wife’s name and children’s names. I understood he had two children. I asked to know their ages. I wanted to make a Mother’s Bracelet for her, but I did not tell the care team ladies that. I did not want them to think I was stupid. I want the pilot’s wife to have a three strand bracelet, his first born child’s name on the first strand, her husband’s name on the second strand, and the second born child on the third strand. I want to make it out of 14K gold and sterling silver. She may not like it, but I have to give it. I don’t know how big to make it, so I will make it seven inches; that is most common. He did the best he could; he saved us from going in the river. He may have made a mistake or the co-pilot may have made a mistake, but they did not want to die, so I know they did the best they could under whatever circumstances they were under. I want the pilot’s wife to know that I do not blame him. I love him. I hope he is in heaven with Jesus. When I get to heaven, if he is there, I will thank him for doing the best he could.

Joe and I got home about 8:00. I realize I have not eaten anything. Food does not seem good. Before the crash, I was trying to not think about eating to stay slim, now I was having to remind myself to eat.

Going to the crash site: Friday; June 4th, 1999 Friday AM
I did go to sleep from 5:30 to 7:00am. I awoke to watch the news reports. Later we got a call from the AA care team ladies. They said to be at the Holiday Inn Airport Hotel at 9:15 to talk to them. We hurried around. Polly came to get Seth out of bed and take him to her house. He would later go to the Jelly Bean Junction because Diane had offered to keep him there. They were going to the movies and he would have a fun day. I did not want him to see the plane. I don’t want him to be scared of flying.

When we got to the Holiday Inn they ask us to go to a private place to talk to me. They tell me that they have a letter and a check from AA. They tell me how sorry they are; and AA is. They tell me to go buy a new purse. They tell me the check is for $25,000. I just look at them. Joe just looks at them. They tell me this is to help me take care of whatever I need. I could not take it. I did not say anything. I did not want their money. Veronica said she would hold it for me until after we visited the crash site. I was speechless and did not want it.

We boarded the bus. We went to meet other buses at other hotels and got in a line. I was sitting in the back of the bus. I was glad we were going slow and had policemen all around; that should keep us from having a bus accident. I noticed the Red Cross Spiritual Leader man sitting close. He had a badge on. I was crying, I could not stop the tears from coming down my face. I could not look out the window. When we got to the airport, I started to look. I wanted to see, to understand. I saw that we were the seventh of the big busses. I did not know if we were the last. Most on the bus people seemed to be from AA care teams. I did recognize some Flight 1420 passengers.

The crash site was unbelievable and we were not even close to the bad side of the plane; the side I came out. I cried and cried. Some walked and talked, some hugged. I took one rose. I removed the petals and threw them on the rocks of the river levy. That was the only funeral I could give the ones who died. A man came to hold me that had been in the water with me. We prayed and cried. I saw how far off the runway we had came, and how we slid over the levy to the river. It made sense as to why they could not find us. It helped me to see and understand why we waited an hour and why it was so horrible. I thanked God that he led us to that little place to stand before we plunged into the river. We had walked directly out of the plane, into the edge of the river. He delivered me, I am sure of that.

When we got back to the hotel the care team ladies wanted me to take the envelope. I told them I knew they were just doing their job and I did not mean to offend them, but the money felt like “blood money”. She gave the envelope to Joe to hold onto and said she understood that I could feel that way. We parted and Joe and I went home. We said very little to each other on the way home. At home, I lay down and slept. I got back up about 5 PM. Close friends and my sister came over.

Saturday; June 5, 1999
I slept several hours Saturday night. It is taking me some time when I get up in the morning to get my body to move normally. Joe is in the yard working on mowing and stuff. I know it is helping him to get back to doing something normal. He works most of the day. The most I can seem to do is walk outside for a few minutes to look around. I try to do some normal stuff, like laundry, but I can’t think clearly. I can’t remember why I walk into rooms or what I am suppose to do. My mind cannot stop thinking of the crash. It helps to write it down. If I can get it out, I can put it behind me. I am scared to drive the car. Joe wants to go get a movie and bring back home to watch. I go with him; I don’t want to be separated from him.

We stop by Greg and Lynn’s for a few minutes, I am trying to act normal, to feel normal. I want to see Allison’s face. I think that I almost never saw it again. She is so cute. We go home and we lay on the couch to watch the movie. I go to sleep on the couch. Joe says I jerk all the time. He says it is a lot of constant jerking. Maybe that is why I cannot sleep for very long at one time. At 10 PM he is tired and ready for bed. I have to get some more of this out of my head and on paper. I would like to get a good nights sleep to be fresh for church on Sunday, but it seems important for me to get this information out of my head. About 1 AM I take a Valium tablet and go to sleep.

Joseph, Seth’s father, brought him home at 10:00pm. I want him to be with me tomorrow at church. It is important for me to have him there. We are going to celebrate God’s decision to spare me. Seth does not comprehend the magnitude of the situation, and he probably shouldn’t. He just knows that God saved his mommy and that other people died.

Sunday; June 6, 1999
I am so thankful that I am able to go to worship and praise the Lord this day. I am thinking of those that can’t. Those that may not have known Him. I had requested that we sing the three songs that I sang at the crash site. The songs that comforted me and hopefully helped me to comfort others. Amazing Grace, Our God is an Awesome God, and Lord I lift your Name on High. I hope it does not mess up the regular service plans too much to accommodate my request.

The service this morning was wonderful, just what I needed. We sang my songs and I truly felt the presence of God. He was there and others seemed to feel Him. I heard some say that the service was not like one they remember. I finally felt able to be glad that I was living. I will live for God, more than ever. I asked David, my brother-in-law, to come but he would not. All the rest of my family was there, sitting behind me; we could not fit on one row together. Seth, Joe and I went down to the alter and I prayed a prayer of thanksgiving like never before. I am so proud of my family and I know I will meet them in Heaven. I always tell Seth, if something happens to mommy, don’t be scared or sad; I will meet you later in the new Jerusalem. I tell him that at night in bed when we discuss personal things. It almost came true. The presence of the Lord allowed me to be glad I survived and enjoy life. I have not been able to enjoy life. Too many died around me and some are still hospitalized and will never be the same. After church, we went to Julie’s to eat. I started describing some of the crash to mother, I had not told her all of it; I did not want to upset her.

My closest friends came over this afternoon. I don’t mind them being here. They kids swam for the first time since the crash. It was good to get the back yard back to normal; it is always filled with precious children. My friends told me they had a hard time in church today, crying and all. I was sitting on the front row and was not aware of what people where doing behind me. They said it was emotional and they felt Gods presence like never before. I am glad.

We took Seth to his Daddy’s before going to the night service. He needs to be with him. He needed to continue having fun.

Tonight’s service was great, but I was not great. I broke down. I could not help it; I tried not to make noise; I could not breathe; I could not stop crying. We had the Lord’s Supper (Communion). I remember someone reading a scripture about God pulling us from the depths of water and I lost it. I know this was planned long ago and our pastor did not decide on these scriptures just for me; but God did. He pulled me from the flames and from the water and that awful storm. I could not stop crying. They made me breathe into a bag. Joe took me to Southwest Emergency Room. I did not want to go, but he insisted. He said I was having an anxiety attack. The doctor agreed and gave us a prescription. We went home. I feel fine now. I feel dumb for causing a scene. I was glad I did it at the end of the Communion Service and did not disturb that. I was glad Seth did not see me like that.

Monday, June 7, 1999
I slept from about midnight to seven. That was good. My body, especially my neck, has trouble in the mornings. It takes about an hour to be able to walk straight. I can’t stop thinking about it. I wake and “it” is my first thoughts. Joe went to work this morning. I know he has to go back, but I am alone. I am glad we took Seth to his Daddy’s last night before church. Right now, he is better off over there. I cannot think to watch him and monitor him in the pool. I know life goes on, but I can’t get my thoughts to go on. I know I will have to drive the car by myself today or someday soon, but I am scared. My thoughts are not clear enough to concentrate on driving. Maybe they will be clear when I am forced to drive, but what if my mind wonders and something tragic happens? I know now how quickly and deadly it can happen.

I will shower and try to think about normal household things. I want a blueberry muffin, but it takes too much thought and energy to make them. How stupid that I don’t feel like making blueberry muffins. I love to make them. I had ordered wooden blinds for the back of the house about 4 to 6 weeks ago. They have called twice to get them installed, but I have been too busy with my Simplex work to do it. I called them on Saturday and ask them to be here this morning to put them in. The papers and news people are still calling. My neighbor says some people are driving by the house. I know it is stupid, but I feel like they could be watching me since we don’t have blinds on the back.

The investment banks are also calling to get me to put my money with them. How bad can people act? The blind man came to install blinds. When he was done, he called me to the kitchen door to show me something about how he had to attach them differently because of the doggy door. I am down looking at the situation with him and listening to him, but I blurt out; “Are you a Christian?” I felt I had a responsibility to ask. He smiled and said he was. I let him continue to tell me about the attachment of the blinds to the door.

A newspaper reporter from the local paper is scheduled to be here at 11:00. I am not sure if I want to talk to her or not. I feel a duty to tell people that God saved me. If she can print it that way, I will talk to her. I will print this out and make her read it before answering her questions. She is gone now. I gave her this information to take with her. Her husband is a pastor. She was nice. She had a few questions, but I think most of her information is in this.

I got a call from the AA care team ladies this morning. They told me that the pilots wife name is Sue. He had two children, a girl Beth, age 19 and a son Evan, age 16. I worked on making the mothers bracelet for his wife while the reporter read this information. I am putting Beth on the first strand, Richard (the pilot) on the second strand, and Evan on the third. It is 14K gold and sterling silver. I was shaking while I made it. I want it to be perfect. I am almost finished. I hope she likes it and realizes how much I care about her grief. The AA Care Team ladies also said they found my briefcase and will bring it out later today.

Joe came home from work to check on me. I had him take me to Harvest Foods to get a card to send to the pilot’s wife along with the bracelet. I will finish it now and get it ready for her. I am not sure how to sign the card or what to say in it. I have finished the bracelet and card. It is ready for the AA care team ladies to pick up. I seems like such a trivial thing to offer her. I tried to tell her in the card that I know her husband did his best. I told her that if he is in heaven, I will thank him when I get there. I told her that I know he did everything humanly possible and along with God, he saved my life, which brought me home to my child. I don’t know if they are religious people or not. I hope they are.

I know that I will grow stronger each day. I know God has a purpose that I have yet to fulfill. I will find the way with his guidance. I want to be bold enough to accept and fulfill his plan for me.

I will never be the same again
I can never return
I’ve closed the door
I will walk the path
I’ll run the race
And I will never be the same again

Fall like fire
Soak like rain
Flow like might waters
Again and again
Sweep away the darkness
Burn away the chaff
And let a flame burn to glorify Your name
There are higher heights
There are deeper seas
Whatever You need to do Lord, do in me
The glory of God fills my life
And I will never be the same again

I Will Never Be, by Geoff Bullock

 

Barbara Heard Survivor; Flight 1420

 

 


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