Chicago, IL Jumbo Jet Crashes On Take Off, May 1979
"It's one big mess," an Arlington Heights firefighter said. "It's very grim."
"The bodies are burned beyond recognition," Hoffman Estates firefighter ROBERT GORVETI said. "There's not one that's recognizable. They're broken up. I've seen burned bodies before, but nothing of this magnitude."
"It looks like a Vietnam battlefield after napalm," Hoffman Estates fire fighter DAVID BAIRD said.
Firefighters searching for bodies laid yellow body bags and wooden stakes beside the remains of the victims. "You can taste what you're doing back there," one firefighter said. "It stays in your mouth."
The bodies were being moved to a temporary morgue set up at an American Airlines hangar at O'Hare. A temporary communications post also was being set up at Elk Grove High School for relatives of victims.
Cardinal JOHN CODY and Chicago Mayor JANE BYRNE were on the scene. The archbishop said he administered a blessing over the remains.
"I said a prayer for all of them. It's a very tragic event. I offered a prayer we say for the dead and asked that the Lord have mercy on them." The cardinal said last rites of the Catholic Church were not administered because "they are not human forms."
Police quickly cordoned off the scene from the thousands of spectators who rushed to the crash. Some children reportedly sneaked through the police lines and ran off with pieces of the wreckage.
State trooper AL HAPACK said police would be on the crash scene for "at least the next three days" to guard the site.
Officials from the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration were on the scene as well as 30 agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
A 10-member unit called a Go-Team was dispatched by the NTSB in Washington to conduct the investigation, said EDWARD E. SLATTERY, a bureau spokesman. SLATTERY said the team should complete its on site work in 10 days to two weeks. The team is to be headed by ELWOOD DRIVER, vice chairman of the NTSB and a former airline pilot.
JOHN OTTO, FBI agent in charge of the Chicago office, said 30 agents were sent to the scene but added, "There is no evidence that this is a sabotage operation."
The plane's "black box" flight recorder of cockpit conversation was found "relatively intact," a spokesman said.
The plane's pilot was Capt. WALTER H. LUX from Tempe, Ariz. He was a native of Wisconsin who had been working for American Airlines since December 1950.
Police set up a command post at the Magee Chemical Co. across the street from the crash site to coordinate their operations.
"It's not even an airplane out there," one state trooper said. "There isn't even the fusilage."
Eyewitnesses said the three-engine plane trailed smoke from the left side before crashing.
"I heard the plane before I saw it," said PAILIE SPADAFINO, a resident of the mobile home park. "I was watering my lawn when I first saw it. After being in the Air Force, it reminded me of many crashes I've seen. I saw the plane start to roll and then it went on its back and when I see that -- a plane on its back -- its back is broken and it automatically goes down."