Monday, July 17, 2006

Transatlantic Call

I had finally gotten to sleep and was snoozing away in the comfortable bed of the nice but non-descript Docklands area hotel room in London. July 17, 1996. My first trip to the UK. 3 weeks in London, Liverpool, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Lake Country, York, Chester, Wales, Ireland.

The phone rang at about 6AM. I thought it was a wrong number or a wake-up call or something. Maybe another member of my group (I had come with a group I did some travel with in the 90s, we'd been to Israel and were going to Turkey in 1997) was calling.

I absentmindedly picked up the phone and put it back down, as I did with all the automated wake-ups I had. It rang again.

"Mr. Clark?"
"You have a transatlantic call"
"Oh, thank you." (' what?' is what I was really thinking.)

It was my sister.

"Mom was worried you were in the plane crash."
"What plane crash?"
"The one in the ocean of of New York."
"I think it is pretty obvious I was not."

I turned on the TV to CNN International and watched the coverage of TWA 800 which happened 10 years ago today.

"Donna, I took United from Washington DC to London. This was TWA New York to Paris."
"I know, but you know mom."

So after assuring my mom I was safe in London and that I was more likely to die driving to Wichita than flying to London, (she thus forbid me to ever drive to Wichita again) we hung up.

TWA Flight 800 took off late in the evening from JFK Airport. Minutes later, the 747 exploded over the Atlantic Ocean and claimed the lives of all 230 people on board. Many believed that it was a missile fired from land that took the jetliner down or even a missile from a Navy ship 200 miles away that downed the plane. An edgy White House initially suspected terrorism and readied plans for military action in the Middle East. Conspiracy theories abound to this day.

But the official account from the National Transportation Safety Board concluded was the likely cause of the explosion was a spark from wiring that ignited fuel vapors in an empty center fuel tank of the Boeing 747 N93119 CN 20083/ LN 153. I tend to believe that.

We had a wonderful trip through the UK but the crash shadowed us and caused long delays on our return as security was still high.

There are memorial services all over the country and at the Memorial Site on Long Island this week for the 230 victims of one of this country's worst air disasters.

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