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Families plan NW Ind. memorial for '94 plane crash victims

Published On: Oct 29 2013 09:03:36 PM CDT
American Eagle

American Eagle flight (Photo courtesy of Ron Cogswell, Flickr.com)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -

Relatives of the 68 people killed in a 1994 commuter plane crash in northwestern Indiana plan to erect a permanent memorial near the rural crash site and dedicate it next year on the 20th anniversary of the crash.

The new installation, still in the conceptual stage, will replace a simple roadside memorial with 68 crosses that's long stood near the remote field where American Eagle Flight 4184 crashed on Oct. 31, 1994, after ice coated the turboprop's wings during a flight from Indianapolis to Chicago.

Jennifer Stansberry Miller of Fishers, Ind., said the cross display is difficult to maintain because the crosses — some adorned with photos and mementos of victims — must be removed and replaced by volunteers every time the roadside grass is mowed. She and other members of the group Families of Flight 4184 are working to raise money informally for the new permanent memorial.

"Our goal is to create something meaningful and well thought out that does not require the maintenance the crosses have for 19 years," said Miller, whose 27-year-old brother, Brad Stansberry, died in the crash.

Some of the relatives of the plane's four crew members and 64 passengers will visit the roadside memorial on Thursday, the 19th anniversary of the crash.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined in 1996 that Flight 4184 developed ice on its wings while in a holding pattern in rainy weather, waiting to land at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. It dropped swiftly from the sky and plunged into a field about 30 miles south of Gary.

Terri Henry Severin lost her 37-year-old sister, Patty Henry, and her 4-year-old nephew, Patrick, in the crash. The suburban Chicago resident said most crash victims' relatives she's spoken to prefer to visit the roadside memorial and not Merrillville's Calumet Park Cemetery, where a granite monument marks the site where some crash victims' remains were buried without advance notice to their families.

"The site at the cemetery is beautiful, and it's where the mass grave is, but it doesn't have the emotional draw like the roadside does. We feel closer to our loved ones at the roadside," she said.

Severin wrote a book, "In the Wake of the Storm," which describes the crash and the changes to airline industry policy that families of the Roselawn crash and other aviation disasters successfully pushed for in response to the treatment they received.

Congress passed legislation in 1996 requiring airlines to have a process in place for notifying crash victims' families and for returning personal items such as luggage and jewelry.

Pat Hansen of Naperville, Ill., whose 48-year-old brother, Frank Sheridan, died in the crash, said she and many other relatives of the crash victims have developed camaraderie over the years from their shared grief and their work lobbying the airline industry.

On Thursday, she'll visit both the roadside memorial and the Merrillville cemetery. At both sites, she'll lay flowers for an elderly Wisconsin woman who also lost a loved one on the flight but is now too ill to make the annual journey.

"She'll call me and say, 'If I send you money, will you bring some flowers and put them at the cemetery and the crash site? And I do that every single year," Hansen said.

Author: RICK CALLAHAN, Associated Press