Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Remembering Flight 3407

Five years ago tonight, I was working in the sports office of a Buffalo television station when one of our "regulars" called and said that a plane had crashed near his home in Clarence. I took that information to our news desk and was told they had little information but a crew was on the way. I went back to my sports office and tuned in the live shot, waiting for the pictures of what I assumed to be a small plane crash to be sent back to the newsroom. When the crew arrived and a picture came up, I said, "Oh my God, that's a Continental tail." The rest of the evening, and really the next several days, were a blur as we learned more about the Crash of Flight 3407.

Red Cross Disaster Mental Health Volunteer Sister Martha Olszewski got a call about a small plane crash that evening. She was eventually asked to report to the Senior Center on Broadway, which was where the Family Support Center--a private location for family members of the 50 people on-board Flight 3407 to receive information--was set up, and where she worked through the evening until 10am the next morning.

"It was just talking to family members about loved ones on the plane," Sr. Martha said. "Just doing my 'Sister Martha' thing, serving coffee and donuts, talking to the people who needed it."
Flight 3407 Memorial in Clarence Center, NY

That was Sr. Martha's only real contact with the family in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy. She spent the next 14 days working at the Clarence Fire Hall, supporting coroners, fire, police and other first responders that were on the scene. In the five year since Flight 3407, she has worked with the family support group, and says this anniversary is difficult on everybody.

"Every time you come to a significant year, it becomes more intense. Five years seems like yesterday," she says. "They have worked through some of their grief, but there's still an empty hole they're dealing with."

Both Sister Martha and NYS Disaster Mental Health Lead Tara Hughes will speak about their efforts as part of the Red Cross response to the tragedy during tonight's vigil to remember the victims of Flight 3407.

"The families designed this ceremony not only to remember the lives lost, but also to thank everyone for their assistance during their time of need," Sr. Martha said.

The thoughts of all of us at the Red Cross are with the families of Flight 3407 on this difficult day, and we thank the volunteers like Sr. Martha and Tara who allow us to be a small part of the supporting community.

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