Today is Friday the 13th, but that’s not what struck me as special about today. It’s the 30th anniversary of the day the Air Florida airliner crashed into the 14th Street Bridge and then into the icy Potomac River in Washington, D.C. It was a day I’ll never forget and one that’s still, even after three decades, so crystal clear in my memory.
I lived in suburban Washington, D.C. then, and both of my parents were missing for hours after the accident. I came home from school and watched the crash coverage and river rescue unfold live on our local news station—and worried. As the helicopters hovered over the accident scene, filming the grisly aftermath of crushed cars on the bridge and the fuselage in the Potomac, I saw the remnants of the exact same car my mother drove decapitated on the bridge.
My father took the Metro into work, so I wasn’t as concerned that he could have been involved until I heard the report at rush hour a few hours later that a Metro train had derailed near his office and people had been inured and killed.
Now, a distraught teenager’s already discombobulated brain can come up with some pretty amazing scenarios and mine was running on overdrive. This was many years before cell phones, so my younger brother and I were left sitting in front of the TV fielding phone calls about our parents and trying our best to keep it together. Thankfully, my mother arrived home safe and sound just after dark, and my father was stuck in D.C. trying to get home for most of the night. But he called to tell us he was OK and would get home as soon as he could.
One of my first airplane trips as a small child was into Washington National Airport. I still remember looking out the window and seeing all the monuments glowing in the night sky. In December I flew out of National (now called Reagan National) for the first time in many years and recalled those fond memories. While I will always think of Washington National as a beautiful airport, each time I fly in or out I think of that day Air Florida Flight 90 helped a teenager to see life as a bit more fragile and to cherish it even more.