1960 Plane Crash Victims Families Exploited by Local Media.

Pillar of FireImage by writRHET via Flickr

Fallout from a Plane Crash.

On December 16, 1960, United Flight 826 and TWA Flight 266 collided over Staten Island, New York. The United plane, while attempting an emergency landing at LaGuardia Airport, crashed into the Park Slope section of Brooklyn.

From the Green-Wood Historical Fund:

Ten brownstones near the intersection of Seventh Avenue and Sterling Place were set on fire, as were a funeral home, a laundry, a delicatessen, and, strangely enough, the Pillar of Fire Church.

134 people died that day including my husband’s father. My husband was four years old.

But the tragedy didn’t end with the victims suffering or with the families devastating losses. On that day a Channel 4 news reporter, Gabe Pressman, had gotten a hold of the passenger manifest from United Flight 826 and called my husband’s mother, and likely other families, to get an interview.

He called my mother-in-law live on the air to inform her that her husband was on United Flight 826 and said something to the affect of, “Do you have a comment?”

That’s how my mother-in-law found out her husband was dead. Her brother then grabbed the phone from her and said, “Fuck you Gabe Pressman,” then hung up.

When recounting the incident of his father’s death on the 50th anniversary of the air disaster, my husband said of Gabe Pressman, “How callous and cold-hearted.  Just to get a story.”

NY Times television critic Jack Gould had criticized the television coverage of the crash and had published a piece called,

“Exploiting Sorrow,” specifically, “the disgraceful and tasteless attempts to interview grief-stricken people who lost members of their families in the tragedies.”

Fifty years later while reflecting on Jack Gould’s criticism of his handling of the story, Gabe Pressman had this to say:

“. . . he didn’t know beans about covering a story on the scene.”

And I say to you, Mr. Pressman, you don’t know beans about integrity in journalism or respect for victims families. A line needs to be drawn between “getting the story” and respecting the privacy of those who survived a loved ones untimely death. This was “gotcha journalism” at its worst.

In spite of the soul gouging by journalists that transpired that day, today, Thursday, December 16, 2010, fifty years later, we remember the souls aboard the two doomed aircrafts, as well as the victims killed on the ground.

On the 50th anniversary of the air disaster that set a section of Brooklyn ablaze, theGreen-Wood Historical Fund in Park Slope is dedicating a memorial to those who died on that cold December morning.  Back in August, while responding to an inquiry about a grave in a public lot, cemetery archivist Theresa LaBianca accidentally discovered the story of the 1960 tragedy.

From the Green-Wood Historical website:

On December 16, 1960, United Airlines Flight 826 and Trans World Airlines Flight 266 collided over Staten Island. The United flight then tried to make it to LaGuardia Airport for an emergency landing, but crashed in Park Slope. Ten brownstones near the intersection of Seventh Avenue and Sterling Place were set on fire, as were a funeral home, a laundry, a delicatessen, and, strangely enough, the Pillar of Fire Church. Eighty-four people on that flight died, and six people on the ground also were killed. The TWA flight crashed in Staten Island and forty-four passengers and crew died there. The investigation of this disaster marked the first time that an airplane’s black box data recorder was used to provide details of what had happened.

In an era before DNA identifications were possible, three caskets of “Fragmentary Human Remains” were filled from the Park Slope crash site and were buried in a grave in lot 38325 that was purchased by United Airlines. No marker was placed on the grave.

Pillar of Fire Church after Crash.

An eerie side note: Twenty years ago I worked for a real estate advertising company in Harrison, NY. While having a discussion about family with my boss, I mentioned the 1960 air disaster and my connection to it. My boss then told me that he had been a student at the time at a mid west college and was booked on the same doomed flight out of Chicago O’Hare airport. He missed the flight. My husband’s father caught an earlier flight to get home to his family for the Christmas holiday.

To read more about the air disaster and subsequent cover up, read the book Sterling Place by Ray Garcia.  I haven’t read it yet. My husband did. He had heard about the book before its publication and had contacted the author, concerned with the tenor of the content. My husband was pleased with the author’s response.

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Fasten Your Brain Belts. Turbulence Ahead.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28:  Fog shrouds...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

On my way home, I lost my way once again, this time ending up on a road to nowhere with signs along the way that said, “Matrax.” At one point, I passed a lone shack with two men in front having a conversation, or so I thought . . .

I THINK, THEREFORE I AM LOST.

After I got lost on my way to the unemployment office (yes, I’m unemployed again), I got lost in the unemployment computer system, a.k.a. jobless purgatory, where unanchored soles float above a nine-to-five day staring down at worker ants (oh, those are people), while awaiting the status of their claims.

A game of paper, rock, and scissors at the state level.

Paper = Paperwork.
Rock = Stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Scissors = Shredding the papers once they are no longer needed. Kind of like how unemployment affects a person’s life.

Once I grilled questioned the gal at the front desk, who was very friendly despite my many pointed questions, I was directed to walk to the far end of the room where a red phone sat on a desk, facing another desk w/said red phone. At which point, I had to pick up the receiver and wait for a voice prompt. Hearing a voice prompt before picking up the phone would have rendered me certifiable, which I already may be any way.

The gentlemen sitting at the desk across from me, a former welder with a bum thumb, had been listening to the looping voice prompt on his red phone for thirty-minutes. I thought I saw his left eye twitch several times. As I sat down onto my elementary school size chair, I nodded at the man, picked up the receiver, and waited to get my orders from headquarters or unemployment, whichever fantasy materialized first.

Since the unemployment scenario involved a red phone and an unknown flunky at the other end of the line, I decided to unofficially refer to myself as Agent 99. For those of you who are not baby boomers or TVLand aficionados, Agent 99 was secret agent Maxwell Smart’s female partner and love interest. My love interest was at work selling high end cars. At the low end, I still wait on the phone, listening to static, and wondering if I’ve entered the Twilight zone or the Comcast wilderness.

Seconds later, I heard a voice, not in my head, but in my ear. It was Miss Voice Prompt telling me to press one to continue in English, two to continue in Spanish. So, I pressed one and got Spanish any way.

“It’s Spanish,” I said in English or “Esta Inglés,” yo dijo en Español.

“That happened to me, too,” said Mr. Welder. “You’ve got to hang up and start all over again.”

So, I hung up the phone and jumped from my chair. “I think I’ll do this at home,” I declared, and then bid Mr. Welder Bum Thumb adieu.

DIRECTIONALLY-CHALLENGED.

On my way home, I lost my way once again, this time ending up on a road to nowhere with signs along the way that said, “Matrax.” At one point, I passed a lone shack with two men in front having a conversation, or so I thought. I watched an oncoming car make a left turn past a sign that said 84 W. The car accelerated up the ramp, then suddenly stopped short in front of a barrier of construction signs. Beyond the signs lay a jagged concrete slab that ended before sky began.

I shook my head and then continued down the road to nowhere, which appeared to be safer than the highway to nowhere, as miles of asphalt stretched endlessly ahead of me.

A deep sigh whooshed from my lips. “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.”

“Please, God,” I whispered. “Get me home before either Dorothy or Miss Voice Prompt speaks to me,” as I preferred to be addressed by the flunky on the phone and not the one in my head.

Later, I hooked up with the flunky on the phone who informed me that I would remain in jobless purgatory until told otherwise.

Now, as sunlight disappears behind a drawn window shade, I wonder when Otherwise will be told.

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Stuff that makes my head explode

 

A list of incendiary vices

Prescription drug commercials about digestive or urinary problems, skin conditions, depression due to said conditions, or erectile dysfunction med symptoms that cause erections to last longer than 72 hours, sudden blindness, insomnia, and incessant howling at the moon.

Squeaky supermarket carts with broken wheels stuck in a perpetual right-hand turn behind old ladies with blue hair.

People listening to new and archived voice mail messages on speakerphone in the dressing room next to mine.

Drivers that use the brake and gas simultaneously while driving on dry, level grading.

Being stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic behind a hot dog truck when I’m starving.

Losing my car keys and finding them in the refrigerator.

Losing the milk and finding it in the car.

Trying to negotiate my way barefoot through a dark room with shards of dog bone fragments scattered
across the floor.

Stepping barefoot in dog puke and having to hop all the way to the bathroom at the opposite end of the hall,
only to find that the door is locked.

Not being able to read anything without glasses and because of it . . .

  •     Setting the oven to 450 degrees instead of 350 ergo blackened meat loaf a la residue.

Reaching for a dishrag with wet hands and find that it is not there. It is across the room on the kitchen table with
the other dishrag that went MIA two days ago.

Not being able to find my glasses on my nightstand or anywhere else since I need my glasses to find my glasses.

Waiting for a gaggle of geese and extended family to cross the road, so they can poop on my lawn.

What makes your head explode?

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Saturday’s Child

Another day of restlessness in the out of work place. Checking job sites is both depressing and aggravating. There should be a site called, “Perpetual Lunch Break.” Though the food in my refrigerator continues to dwindle down to staples only. Today, a Reagan Ketchup Sandwich is on the menu. A colorful liquid food that is both entertaining and tasty. A tarty taste and a farty sound that erupts when pushing down on the plastic container’s stomach.

I have to go to the supermarket but that depresses me, too. It’s boring, though at times can be hypnotic as the cart glides down an aisle past shelves and shelves of boxes with countless brand names and packaging, until a decision needs to be made, like finding the right spaghetti sauce. Searching for spaghetti sauce can be a dizzying experience and can cause an aversion to anything red.

Just making it to the register can be exhilarating. But it’s not over yet. Once you get home you have to lug the bags to the kitchen, then empty them onto the counter. The last step, the putting everything away step, can be daunting. What if I put something perishable with something that enjoys a long shelf life? It could be catastrophic. I break out into a sweat as I grab a container of yogurt. Don’t put it in the cabinet with the cereal. I warn myself. Don’t put it with the napkins or cans of soup. They can last an eternity. The yogurt dies a small death everyday until it expires.

On the shelf in the refrigerator, the cheese, yogurt and luncheon meat on the third shelf, conspire to take over the top shelf where the milk and orange juice are having a conference.

“OJ,” says Moo Milk. “I’m hearing talk of a coup from Eggsy, a reliable source . . . of protein.”

OJ sighed. “I’m sick of being incarcerated here with low shelf-life’s in flimsy packaging. I’ve got Vitamin C and A. What do they’ve got? Nothing but saturated fats and chemicals.”

“That might be true,” replied Moo Milk. “But they’ve got something else, something that could curdle my innards.”

“What’s that?” asked OJ. “What could be so bad?”

“They’ve got those nasty silver-backed sippers. They’re a canny bunch. They’ve got numbers. I tell you. A 48 pack of 12 percenters that can blind-side you with a pop of the can.” He paused. “They can roll, too. We’ll be lucky if we make it to Monday, the last date of sale.”

to continue . . .