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'We're down.' Flight 401 crashed in Miami 50 years in the past. Survivors … – Walla Walla Union-Bulletin


MIAMI — Beverly Raposa switched seats from her common place within the galley for a flight from New York to Miami.

The aircraft was crossing over the Everglades on Dec. 29, 1972, when she turned to fellow flight attendant Stephanie Stanich.

Raposa, 25, had observed one thing unusual.

“These engines don’t sound correct.”

“They sound high-quality,” Stanich responded.

“No, they don’t,” Raposa, now 75, remembers telling Stanich.

Shortly after, the aircraft crashed into the swamp.

Jap Airways Flight 401 was one in all South Florida’s deadliest airline disasters. The crash killed 101 individuals, together with Stanich. Raposa was one in all 75 survivors.

The crash modified the course of the aviation business by new security measures that require pilots to take care of communication with the cabin crew and require flight attendants to hold bigger flashlights.

For many years, lots of the 75 survivors have mirrored on methods to honor those that died within the tragedy. On Dec. 29, they’ll unveil a memorial in Miami Springs to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Jap crash.

The granite marker, engraved with the names of the individuals who perished, will stand in a median close to the Miami Springs Nation Membership for future generations to see.

Remaining moments on Jap Flight 401

13 seconds previous 11:42 p.m., the aircraft flew into the Everglades and crashed nearly 20 miles northwest of Miami Worldwide Airport and eight miles north of Tamiami Path.

The Lockheed L-1011 was the satisfaction of the Jap fleet — and the primary of a new generation of wide-body jumbo jets to crash. The loss of life toll was, in 1972, the best of any one-plane accident.

A sequence of errors introduced down the aircraft that December night time, between Christmas and New Yr’s.

Because the crew crossed over the Florida Everglades, they had been making an attempt to decrease the touchdown gear. However a light-weight didn’t verify whether or not the touchdown gear was down.

The cockpit crew, scrambling to determine the issue, acquired permission from air visitors management to circle the Everglades.

Was it a burned-out $12 bulb or a defective touchdown gear?

Then got here the ultimate — and deadly — mistake. Amid the confusion, the distracted crew didn’t discover the auto pilot button was switched off.

And the plane progressively descended into the mushy swamp from 20,000 ft.

Reminiscence, ache and classes

Mercy Ruiz, 29, additionally observed one thing unusual that night time. The aircraft was heading away from the town lights.

She requested fellow flight attendant Patricia Ghyssels, who sat throughout from her, what was happening.

“Oh, Mercy, cease complaining,” Ghyssels responded. “It’s the vacations. If we’re a bit of late, it’s extra time.”

Then, baggage shot out of the overhead bins. The flooring of the aircraft crumbled. Items of the plane scattered throughout the sawgrass.

These are the final moments Ron Infantino, 76, who now lives in The Villages in Central Florida, remembers earlier than blacking out. One minute, he was resting in his seat together with his arms folded. The following, he was coated in water as much as his chin.

All of it occurred so shortly that he couldn’t flip to verify on his spouse of 20 days, Lilly Infantino, who sat beside him on the flight from New York to Miami.

Infantino, then 26, awoke bobbing within the swamp, unable to maneuver with an injured arm, chest and knee. He heard alligators and snakes splash round him as whirring airboats and helicopters looked for survivors. He wasn’t rescued till 4 or 5 hours later, he remembers studying in his hospital data.

In one other a part of the Everglades, flight attendant Mercy Ruiz shivered, her physique soaked in kerosene. She, too, couldn’t transfer due to a fractured pelvic bone.

It was so darkish she couldn’t see her palms in entrance of her. She was dazed and disoriented however observed a penlight flashing close by. Raposa had discovered her.

“What occurred, Beverly?” Ruiz requested.

“Honey, we crashed.”

“No, we didn’t crash, Beverly. It’s a foul dream. We’re gonna get up.”

“No, Mercy, we’re down.”

After putting a seat cushion beneath Ruiz’s head, Raposa left to seek for different survivors. She got here throughout a girl who discovered an 11-month-old child as she scouted the wreckage for her son. Raposa introduced the newborn to Ruiz, who cradled him to maintain heat.

As frog hunters who witnessed the crash helped rescue survivors, Raposa led these remaining in renditions of “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Pink-Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman.” The final group was rescued at 3:30 a.m. Dec. 30, nearly 4 hours after the crash.

Within the hospital, Infantino barely survived. His proper arm was practically severed, his left knee damaged, his chest crushed. He was so weak that docs opted to function with out anesthesia.

He held out hope that his spouse had survived — one other affected person with their final identify was admitted to a hospital in Florida. However that turned out to be Infantino’s uncle, who wasn’t on the aircraft.

Three days after the crash, Lilly Infantino’s physique was discovered. Infantino had met his spouse, a Little Havana resident, when he moved to Miami after the Air Pressure. The couple dated for a number of years earlier than getting married in December 1972.

“That reminiscence by no means goes away,” he informed the Miami Herald 50 years later. “I simply remorse not getting an opportunity to say goodbye. I take into consideration her every single day.”

Infantino, across the time of his wedding ceremony, had accomplished an inherent ability check, despatched in his résumé and utilized for a job as a pilot at Jap Airways.

Within the days following the crash, Infantino’s mom introduced him a pile of mail. One of many envelopes was a letter from Jap requesting an interview.

He referred to as the airline from his hospital room and defined that he had survived the latest crash and was nonetheless recovering. The airline nonetheless needed to interview him for a gap that he might begin after his well being improved.

Jap staff visited Infantino for a two-hour interview. He was supplied the job. He turned it down.

Infantino began a commuter airline of his personal, which later folded, and acquired married to his respiratory therapist, who additionally skilled heartbreak after dropping her fiancé in a drunk-driving accident. The couple had two sons.

Wanting again, Ruiz, now 78, who labored at Jap till the corporate stopped flying in 1991, sees indicators within the occasions of Dec. 29, 1972.

Amid the aircraft’s wreckage, her cream-colored, company-issued suitcase was the one one which remained intact. However what was inside was the true prize: a Kodak Instamatic digital camera and rolls of movie.

The flight crew had taken photos as a souvenir for what would have been their final journey of the 12 months collectively. Solely 9 smiling faces seem as a result of one volunteered to take the picture.

The group needed to stability their pose, in order that they stood in two traces of 4 with one of many flight attendants stretching out excessive of a closet. It was an image nobody was alleged to see, and as an alternative, it has been everywhere in the world, identified for being taken proper earlier than the catastrophe.

Copies of that picture at the moment are certain in a leather-based album that Jap gave all of the flight attendants of Flight 401 after the tragedy.

There’s one other picture Ruiz has analyzed through the years. In it, the crew pranked two of the flight attendants: one with satan horn fingers coming from her head and one other jokingly grabbed by the neck.

They had been Stanich and Ghyssels, the 2 flight attendants who died within the crash.

“That additionally gave me an impression like the 2 women had been marked,” Ruiz mentioned. “Why them two?”

By 5 a long time, classes persist with the survivors of 401.

Infantino appears to be like again on the crash when he’s annoyed concerning the inconveniences he faces in his day by day life.

“I quantity issues from 1 to 10, and 10 [is] a aircraft crash,” he mentioned. “So after I’m caught in visitors, I say, ‘Ron, What quantity is that this? It’s not a ten.’ ”

Raposa, who labored in a journey company after leaving Jap, reminds herself to not go away the home indignant and to inform her family members how a lot she cares for them — as a result of returning is rarely a assure.

“Once you’ve stared loss of life within the face simply as I’ve,” she mentioned, “you don’t take issues with no consideration anymore.”

Remembering those that perished

Survivors will unveil a memorial marker on a grassy median of Curtiss Parkway in Miami Springs, throughout from the nation membership, on Dec. 29, the anniversary of the crash.

Miami Springs, a bed room neighborhood bordering Miami Worldwide Airport, was residence to many Jap staff within the Nineteen Seventies and ‘80s. Raposa, who now lives in Broward County, studied to turn out to be a flight attendant simply steps away from the memorial website.

Organizers are nonetheless in search of donations to cowl the price of the memorial, a invoice that stands at about $20,000. Anybody wishing to donate can write a verify payable to the Nationwide Air Catastrophe Basis or donate online.

In 2021, a memorial marker was put in within the Everglades to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the May 11, 1996, ValuJet crash. The crash, one other seminal second in South Florida aviation historical past, killed all 110 individuals on board. The aircraft plunged into the Everglades after taking off from the Miami airport.

The thought for a memorial for Jap Flight 401 first popped up on the thirty fifth anniversary gathering within the Everglades. A bunch of survivors drafted plans for a marker, however life acquired in the way in which.

5 years in the past, Raposa revived the thought and acquired approval to put it on a plot of public land in Miami Springs. That point, funds acquired in the way in which.

At the beginning of 2022, Raposa remembered her promise to honor those that misplaced their lives on the flight. She downsized plans for the memorial so it might be accomplished whereas the remaining survivors are nonetheless alive.

“I carry these of us in my coronary heart each single day,” Raposa mentioned of those that died within the tragedy. “There has not been at some point within the final 50 years that they haven’t been in my coronary heart and that I haven’t needed to make it possible for I stored my promise to them. Typically, it doesn’t look like 50 years.”

For Ruiz, the memorial will likely be a light-weight within the darkness, a spot to hope, mirror and bear in mind the souls misplaced within the tragedy.

It’s like the sunshine they wanted within the Everglades on that December night time 50 years in the past.



©2022 Miami Herald. Go to at miamiherald.com. Distributed by Tribune Content material Company, LLC.

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