The year 1985 ended in the same way it began on New Year's Day 12 months ago: the charred and gnarled wreckage of an airplane fuselage, burned bodies in plastic sacks, rescue workers sifting through smoldering debris.
That familiar and grisly scene, played out on a Bolivian mountaintop on the first day of last year, was repeated 365 days and 2,000 lives later on a Chilean island glacier and in a pasture of the northeast Texas plains.
Ten people, including eight Americans on a polar excursion, died in the Chilean crash Tuesday afternoon, while the Texas crash late Tuesday claimed the life of former teen pop idol Rick Nelson, his fiance and five members of his band.
The two tragedies provided an epilogue to The Year of the Crash, a disastrous year for aviation in this country and worldwide when planes exploded and burned on runways, crashed while landing, crashed while taking off, disappeared into thin air, smashed into mountains, fell into houses and onto shopping centers. It was a year that saw, in mind-searing succession:
*An Air India jet disintegrate off the Irish coast, killing all 329 on board.
*A Delta Air Lines jumbo jetliner crash in a violent thunderstorm while approaching the Dallas airport, killing 133.
*520 killed when a Japan Air Lines jet on a flight from Tokyo to Osaka slammed into a mountainside.
*54 burn to death while strapped in their seats when a British Airways charter plane burst into flames on the runway in Manchester, England.
*A charter plane carrying U.S. military service members crash at Gander, Newfoundland, killing all 258 on board.
*A twin-engine plane crash into the roof of a suburban California shopping mall on Dec. 23, killing four persons and injuring 88 as it rained debris on last-minute holiday shoppers.
It was a year that seemed to numb the senses of Americans who by now may have grown accustomed to almost instantaneously televised scenes of dismembered bodies in airplane wreckage. It was a year that added terms such as "wind shear" to the vernacular.
It was a year that riveted the psyche of the traveling public, as the horror of crashes was increasingly coupled with the random violence of terror -- much of it directed at Americans overseas.
The June hijacking of a TWA flight to Beirut, with a young Navy man's beaten body dumped onto the tarmac, the commandeering of an Italian cruise ship in which an elderly, wheelchair-bound American was killed, and the bloody machine gun attacks on airports in Rome and Vienna all served notice on Americans that traveling in 1985 carried new and heightened risks.
It was also a year of scanning agate-type passenger lists for familiar names, as The Year of the Crash claimed the well-known as well as the anonymous.
Rick Nelson, killed in one of the Tuesday crashes, was a familiar child star known as Ricky on "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" television series, and had more than 40 hits on the music charts.
Also killed last year was Samantha Smith, the 13-year-old Maine student who wrote a peace plea to Soviet leader Yuri Andropov and received, in return, an all-expense-paid trip to the Soviet Union. She died, with her father, three other passengers and two crewmen, in late August when a Bar Harbor Air Lines turboprop plane ripped through a pine forest, fell over an embankment and burst into flames in a wooded ravine in Auburn, Maine.
Playwright Larry Shue, whose hit "The Nerd" became the all-time top box-office play in London's West End, was killed in late September when a Henson Airlines commuter flight crashed in the western Virginia mountains. The wife of Air Force Lt. Gen. James A. Abrahamson, director of the agency coordinating Strategic Defense Initiative research, was killed last month when a single-engine plane crashed in the Sierra Nevada.
The year's tragedies were caused by pilot error and equipment failure, by sugar in the fuel line of one plane and possibly a bomb in the luggage compartment of another. These were acts of God and acts of man, as planes were buffeted by winds, thrown off course by cracked tails and rocked by heavy rains.
In this country, the crashes have been variously blamed, if only indirectly, on the 1981 firing of the air traffic controllers, on deregulation, on the enforcement role of federal safety inspectors. The crashes have led to calls for more federal funding for airline inspectors for the Federal Aviation Administration, and questions as to whether safety standards of smaller airlines are equal to those of large carriers.
But federal officials say that while the year has been a dismal one in aviation's relatively brief history, there is no common thread -- no linkage -- between the disasters in Dallas, Gander, Manchester, Toyko and off the Irish coast.
The latest two tragedies, in Antarctica and Texas, begin again the long and exhaustive process of searching for clues and explanations. As with most of the other disasters, it could be months before the riddles are solved -- if ever.
In Antarctica, the eight American men and two crewmen were killed when a chartered twin-engine Cessna 404 overflew its destination and crashed near King George Island, according to a spokeswoman for the charter company, Aeropetrel.
They were heading to Antarctica, an increasingly popular tourist attraction, for New Year's.
Meanwhile, in De Kalb, Tex., federal aviation investigators arrived on the scene yesterday to search for the cause of the crash that killed Nelson, 45, and his party, who were on their way from Alabama to Dallas for a New Year's Eve performance.
The pilot and copilot survived that crash with severe injuries. They were hospitalized in Arkansas.
Witnesses said the propeller-driven plane appeared to catch fire and was trying to make an emergency landing in a pasture. A helicopter pilot, Don Ruggles, said he heard a radio distress call about 5 p.m. that said the plane was flying at about 8,000 feet and having difficulty.
"He said smoke was filling the cockpit," Ruggles said. "I watched the airplane descend to a very low altitude, and about 500 feet above the ground we started noticing smoke trailing the airplane."
The plane clipped two electric power poles and came to rest in flames about 200 yards from a farmhouse. Ruggles landed nearby. "We just simply couldn't get to them because of the heat and the flames," he said.