Friday, September 30, 2011

Plane Crashes, Hurricanes, and Distant Memories

Friday Night is movie night at our house.  We've celebrated the end of the week for years with pizza, root beer, licorice, and a family movie.  As our kids are getting older we're able to watch movies that deal with heavier, sometimes more emotional, content and life lessons that add to interesting, thought provoking conversations.

This last week we watched We Are Marshall.  It is a tragic story about an airplane crash carrying the majority of the Marshall University football team along with coaches, athletic directors, and boosters.  The lost life and shattered dreams threatened to destroy a football program, school and town.  The first few minutes leaves viewers speechless and heartbroken.  As the movie progresses, we witness the resilience and renewed hope as the Marshall football team is rebuilt and the town begins to heal from the devastating circumstances that could have left them crushed without inspiration or a future.

While watching it, I couldn't help but think of a similar airplane crash that occurred when I was a child living on the small island of Terceira, Azores.

There are some monumental events, like hurricanes, I vaguely remember during our time living in the Azores, 1974-1976, but first I'll reminisce the fond memories I have while living on "The Rock." 

I remember:

  • Sliding down hillsides on cardboard veering to miss the large volcanic rocks.
  • The giant volcanic rock wall behind our house and catching the lizards that occupied the crevices.
  • The Portuguese people digging through our garbage regularly for just about anything they could reuse. 
  • The flowers they'd make from old wire hangars and discarded nylons.
  • The smell of fig trees and geraniums that bloomed like perennials.
  • Hydrangeas, AMAZING hydrangeas.
  • Spending the whole summer at the pool.
  • Seeing a submarine out in the ocean wondering if it was a Communist invasion.  It probably wasn't, but my imagination thought it might be. 
  • Our neighbor girl getting lice and her maid picking the nits out.  She was the first person I ever knew to get lice.
  • Wanting a dog, but the island dogs were something crazy. 
  • Communist propaganda pasted all over the white-washed walls in the towns outside the base.
  • Walking past guard shacks on my way to school everyday.  The Portuguese soldiers made me uncomfortable.
  • Being able to walk all over the base because military bases felt safe and secure.
  • Every Saturday going to the matinee and buying a Sugar Daddy.  It lasted longer than any other candy option and seemed like the most economical choice.  After the movie, I'd walk up and down the aisles looking for lost change. 
  • Our maids, seamstresses and gardeners.  Some had teeth, some didn't.  Some showered, some didn't.  We went to the home of one of our maids.  She had a dirt floor, no running water, no electricity.  She still smiled through a toothless grin and had joy.  Our seamstress could make a complete outfit just by taking measurements and creating a pattern from a brown grocery sack.  She could whip out an outfit in a day and she'd make matching clothes for my dolls!
  • Ox pulled carts on cobblestone roads.
  • Having to go to the MARS station to call the states and saying "Hi Grandma, over." 
  • Not having ice cream, fast food, or a live Christmas tree. 
  • Having birthday parties and receiving 3 of the same thing because it was all there was to buy at the base Toyland. 
  • Not having television until evening.  Armed Forces Television and Radio had limited shows like Mannix, SWAT or Barnaby Jones.  I think we may have had Electric Company and Felix the Cat on Saturdays.  We watched this limited programming on a small, probably 10-inch black and white television.
  • Waiting for Saturday so I could hear Casey Kasem's Top 40. 
  • My parents going to Lisbon, Portugal for a get-away while we stayed back on the island with friends.  While in Lisbon, there was a coup.  My parents called and informed us they weren't sure when or if they'd be able to get out of the country.  This really scared me.  That could be another post.
I actually remember quite a bit.  Most of it was really great, but...There were scary things too.

One of the scariest things I remember were two hurricanes.  Hurricane Emmy and Frances.  I remember having to sleep downstairs because the wind blew so hard the four-plex we lived in swayed.  We were instructed to stay downstairs in the event the top floor blew off.  I also remember a plane crash.  My dad was called out to help.  Watching We Are Marshall got me to thinking about the plane crash.

With the help of the internet I've been able to find out more about what happened.  I've found the two scariest events we experienced while living there were related.

Hurricane Emmy developed on August 20, 1976 and reached her top speed of 100-105 mph and gradually weakened when absorbed by Hurricane Frances.  Emmy was the longest-lived hurricane of 1976.  Hurricane Emmy downed the Venezuelan Air Force plane that killed the 68 passengers aboard.  These 10 flight crew members and 58 passengers from a Venezuelan school choir were on their way to Spain when they attempted to land at Lajes Field in hurricane force winds.  The plane crashed into a hillside just one mile from the runway.,_costa_Norte_da_ilha_Terceira,_A%C3%A7ores,_Portugal.JPG

I found the following description of Emmy.

Hurricane Emmy, 1976

Storm Lifecycle

The tropical depression that became Hurricane Emmy developed on August 20 from a tropical wave, located about 1000 miles east of the Lesser Antilles. As it moved west-northwestward, the area strengthened to a tropical storm on the 22nd. On the 24th, it recurved to the northeastward, and strengthened to a hurricane on the 25th. Its eastward movement so early in the year is almost unprecedented, as it occurred from the rapid development of a low pressure system to its northeast. Emmy moved recurved back northwest on the 26th, but again moved eastward on the 29th, when it reached its peak of 100 mph. More » It gradually weakened, and on September 4, a weakened extratropical Emmy was absorbed by the larger circulation of Hurricane Frances while located over the Azores. Hurricane Emmy caused 68 indirect deaths when a Venezuelan Air Force plane carrying a school choir crashed on a landing attempt at Lajes Air Base in the Azores during the storm. This makes Hurricane Emmy the fifth documented storm to have downed an airplane (the others were Hurricane Janet, Typhoon Emma, Hurricane Betsy and Hurricane Esther)[citation needed]. Like Emmy, the tropical depression that became Hurricane Frances formed from a tropical wave on August 27, while midway between the Lesser Antilles and the coast of Africa. The next day, it became a tropical storm, and on August 30, Frances became a hurricane. As it recurved to the north and east, Frances reached her peak of 115 mph on September 1. Steady weakening occurred afterwards, and Frances became extratropical on the 4th.
Hurricane Frances reached her peak speed of 115 mph on September 1, 1976!  Wow!  I remember hearing the gauge that measured wind speed was blown off.  I don't know if that was true or not.  I just remember everything that was not nailed down was blown.  I seem to remember even vehicles being moved by the wind.  Now, thinking of it, I seem to recall a woman being blown around while on the street.  Is that true, or a dream?

But watching We Are Marshall, I'm reminded of my dad responding along with other emergency response personnel to the downed aircraft.  Hurricane Emmy was the fifth documented storm to down and airplane according to Stormpulse.  What a sad, life-changing day! 

I am glad that with the help of the internet I can find answers to the questions that have occupied my thoughts over the past many years.  I can't help but wonder about the Venezuelan school (Venezuelan choir Orfeon Universitario) and if they recovered and healed like Marshall University.

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