Jane R. Burka was going to visit her sick mother. Chalmers McIlwaine Jr. was flying to Tampa on business, as were eight engineers from Fairchild Industries Inc. in Germantown. Leon and Harriet Murek, survivors of the Holocaust, were going to spend their first winter in their new retirement condominium. Flight attendant Donna Charlene Adams was on her regular East Coast run.
Altogether 79 people were aboard Air Florida's Tampa-bound Flight 90 Wednesday when it crashed seconds after takeoff in a blinding snowstorm at National Airport here, leaving only five survivors.
For some, the flight was the start of a vacation and a respite from winter. Others had changed their travel plans, catching the earlier Flight 90 in an effort to beat the snowstorm that had closed the airport for more than an hour earlier that afternoon. In the end, the plane was only about two-thirds full when it taxied to the longest runway at National to begin its regular two-hour flight south.
McIlwaine, 42-year-old vice president of a Denver-based securities firm, had called his wife, Bonnie, at their Great Falls home twice before boarding the plane, which took off nearly two hours late because of the weather.
"We joked about things," she recalled yesterday. "He was bored. He was in a very good frame of mind."
Her husband's second call came about 2:15 p.m., while the airport was closed for snow removal. "He said, 'It's one helluva mess here. Sand trucks are everywhere. They're gonna board us, so once they get the runways cleared, we can go.' "
"I said, 'Chalmers, is it safe?' "
"He said, 'I sure hope so, Hon, but they should know what they're doing.' "
The crash was the second time Bonnie McIlwaine, 36, has been widowed and the second time she has lost a close relative in a plane crash. Her father died the same way years ago. "I'll tell you something," she said. "It doesn't get any easier."
Jane R. Burka, 37, the wife of Bethesda real estate developer David I. Burka whose family formerly owned Washington's K-B Theater chain, was flying alone to Hallandale, Fla., to visit her mother, who is ill, said Stuart Bindeman, a long-time family friend.
"It really hasn't hit the family," Bindeman said. "They put her on the plane and expected her to be gone for a week. The problem will be when she doesn't come back."
Like Jane Burka, president of the sisterhood of the Washington Hebrew Congregation, Harriet and Leon Murek of Chevy Chase were active members of the Washington synagouge they attended. Both were refugees from war-torn Europe, family members said. Harriet Murek, who escaped from Auschwitz, was the only member of her family to survive the Holocaust.
The Mureks were flying to Tampa and then on to Fort Lauderdale to spend their first winter in the condominium they had bought for their retirement after operating a liquor store and two neighborhood groceries in Northeast and in Southwest near the waterfront for decades.
Their son, Morris Murek, who turned 30 the day his parents died, said his sister and brother-in-law drove his parents to the airport and waited until they boarded the plane. Murek said his parents originally planned to leave Thursday, but moved up their departure by one day when an Air Florida representative suggested that bad weather might force cancellation of Thursday's flights.
"They were really looking forward to it," Morris Murek said. "They were ecstatic."
A friend said both had health problems and had spent the past few winters in Florida, where they were considering moving permanently.
For the crew of Flight 90--pilot Larry Michael Wheaton, copilot Roger A. Pettit and flight attendants Adams, Marilyn Diane Smith Nichols and Kelly Duncan--Florida was home. The 25-year-old Nichols, her husband Larry said, was pregnant with their first child. It had been confirmed Christmas Eve.
Nichols said he learned of the crash about 30 minutes after it occurred when his mother-in-law called him while he was working on his wife's car at their Miami home.
"I went out and bought her side-steps so she could get in and out of it more easily while she was pregnant," he said yesterday as he stood in the lobby of the Crystal City Marriott hotel where some of the victims' families had gathered.
"My first decision was to come here to be near her whether she was a survivor or not," said Nichols, who had been married less than two years. "But I know she's still under the ice."
A friend of Marilyn Nichols said she and her closest friend, 23-year-old Adams, always tried to arrange schedules so they could work together. The night before the two shared their last trip together, Adams spent the evening watching television with her boyfriend and another couple.
Larry Wheaton, 34, and Roger Pettit, 31, were seasoned pilots and military veterans. Wheaton had been a pilot 14 years and Pettit was an Air Force pilot and instructor before joining Air Florida a year ago.
Michael Lauderdale, 32, an Air Florida employe who was riding in the cockpit with the crew but was not a crew member, was an eight-year veteran of the Air Force who had been discharged July 1980.
Barbara Piontek, 51; Mary, her 23-year-old daughter-in-law, and Brian, her 5-month-old grandson, were flying home to Tampa after a two-day visit with Barbara Piontek's 81-year-old mother, Dorothy Quinn, in Alexandria.
Mary Piontek's husband is a member of the Air Force stationed in Korea and this was Quinn's last opportunity to meet her new great-grandson before he and his mother joined him overseas. Brian was one of three unticketed infants believed killed in the crash.
Another was 18-month-old Christina Krzanowski, probably being held on the lap of one of her parents who were en route to visit relatives in Tampa. They then planned to attend a pediatrician's conference in Miami. Dr. Edward Krzanowski, 36, his wife Karen, 34, and their 4-year- old son David were listed on the airline manifest. The family lived in Lexington Park. Krzanowski was a Navy lieutenant commander.
Also en route to a medical conference in Florida were Dr. William D. Liddle Jr., a Fredericksburg pediatrician, and Jo Ann Blake, 43, of Spotsylvania, a medical staff secretary for Mary Washington Hospital. Liddle was a licensed pilot and co-owner of a small plane, said his wife, Betty.
"Bill and I had a lot of conversations about if we died, what we wanted done," recalled Betty Liddle, who married her husband in 1953. "That has been so easy because he wanted to be cremated and wanted to have a memorial service with just friends and then wanted everybody to come back to the house . . . We planned this in a rather joking way."
Susan Fusco, 53, an elementary school teacher from Bowie, was reluctant to fly Wednesday because she was afraid of flying, said her husband, Gene. Susan Fusco was supposed to vacation in Tampa several days, and then attend a conference of teachers.
"We had called Air Florida to see if we could get a refund on the ticket, but they said the fare was not refundable. So rather than lose the money $214 round trip my wife decided to go ahead.
"All the way to the airport, we kept discussing whether the trip was worth it. She was primarily concerned about the weather and how bad it would have to be for the airlines to cancel the flights. I tried to assure her that the weather wouldn't be a problem and that the plane would fly above the storm."
Robert Essary, 50, of Gaithersburg, was one of eight employes of Fairchild Industries aboard the flight. The Fairchild team, all working at the corporation's Space and Electronics Division, were headed for a meeting in Florida.
Jacqueline Essary said she thought her husband had a premonition the night before the trip. "Bob wanted to discuss death and what I should do if anything ever happened to him," she said. "I didn't want to discuss death. But he kept bringing it up as if he knew something was going to happen, something about getting his life in order and making out a will. I encouraged him to forget that."
Two Washington area residents were headed for a meeting at MacDill. They were Arnold Ivener of Springfield, a civilian member of the Army Corps of Engineers, and Lt. Col. Herbert Hiller of Fairfax.
Jose Tirado, a native of Madrid presumed killed along with his 2-month-old son Jason, was going to Tampa with his wife Priscilla, 23.
The Tirados were going to Tampa so Jose Tirado could take a construction job and his wife could be near her parents, who lived in Clearwater.
Arland Williams, 46, a senior examiner with the Federal Reserve Bank in Atlanta, had been in Washington for a week of meetings.
Stanley D. Woodard, 77, of Silver Spring, was going to Florida to inspect a retirement home where he and his wife Mary Frances, 81, hoped to relocate. His wife stayed behind at their Leisure World apartment. She said her husband was an inveterate traveler and that the couple met 10 years ago while on a round-the-world cruise.
"I thought a plane wouldn't run if the weather was so bad," said Mrs. Woodard. "But he insisted on going."