Norwood Fitzgerald was ready to fly to Las Vegas, Nev., with the rest of his family for a brother's funeral, until a funny feeling made him reconsider. It saved his life.
Seven members of the Fitzgerald family of Addis, La., were among the victims of the Pan American World Airways crash Friday that became the second worst aviation disaster in U.S. history.
"I woke up this morning and said no way you're gonna get me on that plane," Fitzgerald said late Friday. "I had a ticket and it had my name on it until this afternoon, and then my brother said he'd go instead. I just had a feeling."
Killed when the jet plummeted into a neighborhood of Kenner, a New Orleans suburb, was the 84-year-old matriarch of the family, Mamie Fitzgerald, justice of the peace in Addis.
Another victim was her son, W. E. Fitzgerald, an Addis councilman and a former mayor. The other family members on the plane were Mrs. Fitzgerald's three daughters and two of her sons-in-law.
Stranded by a broken-down car en route to the funeral of their brother, who died Wednesday in a motorcyle crash, Patricia Hartford and Judith Cunnings borrowed plane fare from a family friend and boarded Flight 759 with their three children shortly before it left New Orleans.
"I made arrangements here to pay for the flight because they didn't have enough cash with them," said the friend, Audrey Briseno, yesterday from her home in Romeo, Mich., a Detroit suburb. "I guess maybe that's the reason I feel so bad is I paid for the flight."
Hartford's and Cunnings' parents and widowed sister-in-law were driving to the Paris Funeral Home in El Cajon, Calif., Friday afternoon when funeral director Lew Daves got word of the crash.
The women's mother, who lost three of her seven children and three of her grandchildren in three days, suffered a mild heart attack when he told her, Daves said, "and a neighbor friend of the family suffered a near-fatal heart attack."
Susan Mulderick and her four friends are alive today thanks to what they first thought was a stroke of bad luck. The five women were bumped from Pan American's ill-fated flight just 15 minutes before it took off.
Mulderick, Miriam Becerre, Kerry Gimre, Judy James and Donna Kennedy were waiting to board the flight when Pan American officials told them it had been overbooked. Ten minutes later they caught an American Airlines flight to Las Vegas.
As news of the crash spread on the American Airlines flight, other passengers told the five women they should head straight for the gambling tables in Las Vegas because it was obvious luck was with them.
Gimre said they did give gambling a shot, but lost about $100 among them in 10 minutes. "I guess we used our luck up," she said.
Pan Am co-captain Donald Pierce was a rare husband. The night before he died, he did the laundry, washed the car, fixed the mailbox and left his wife a special surprise.
She found it Friday night at 7. It was a small book of verse, carefully positioned atop a nightstand. It was titled, "I Love You."
"He did it again," Lillian Pierce sobbed to sorrowful friends who had gathered at her suburban Miami home. Before a flight just last week, there had been another surprise, another poem.
"Time moves so fast when I'm home," it said, "and so slowly when I'm not with you."
Pierce's final message to his wife, handwritten just before he left for the fatal Flight 759, was on the final page of the book of verse. "My love to you," the message said. It was signed, "Don."
Gerald Hibbs, sick of the smell and sight of death, was picking aimlessly through the charred rubble just five yards from where the plane's landing gear came to rest Friday when he thought he saw a mattress move.
"I was so sick and so tired of death, I thought I was seeing things," said Hibbs, 32, a firearms instructor for the Jefferson Parish sheriff's department. "I picked up the mattress and oh, God, there was a little bitty baby, a little pink baby."
The "miracle baby," as frantic rescuers christened her, was 16-month-old Melissa Trahan, whose mother and sister died when their house was demolished in the crash. She was in good condition yesterday.