But Mon. afternoon Oct. 31, when Roselawn residents heard what sounded like thunder, a "big roar" and a loud shrieking noise, they knew there was something very wrong. Their worst fears were realized when they rushed to a nearby soybean field between SR 55 and I-65 and found the scattered debris of American Eagle Flight 4184, a twin-engine turboprop commuter airplane with 68 on board.
Larry Midkiff, a Roselawn man driving home from work on SR 55, witnessed the crash at about 4:30 p.m. He told reporters and investigators that he almost couldn't believe what he saw -- an airplane falling from the sky at a 45-degree angle, nose down, disappearing behind a wooded area into a farm field. The last thing Midkiff saw was a puff of smoke coming up from behind the trees before he hurried to the site.
Once Indiana State Police were notified about the crash they contacted O'Hare and learned that Flight 4184 from Indianapolis had disappeared from radar screens at about 4 p.m., just after the crew was told they could descend from an altitude of 10,000 feet to 8,000 feet while in a holding pattern awaiting clearance to land in Chicago.
Emergency vehicles and rescue units were dispatched to the scene, but soon realized that after a full day of cold, windy and rainy weather, the bean field where the wreckage lay was virtually inaccessible by vehicle.
Those trying to reach the crash site on foot found themselves sinking ankle-deep in mud, while only farm tractors could enter the field without getting stuck.
Police quickly sealed off an area of about 640 acres, and as media around the Midwest began learning about the crash and clamoring for information about the fate of the 64 passengers and four crew members, rescue workers rushed into the area seeking survivors.
Almost immediately, however, it became apparent that no human being could have survived the impact of the horrifying crash, which caused the plane to almost disintegrate.
"Utter devastation" was the term used by a federal investigator who visited the scene. The only recognizable piece of wreckage was a chunk of the vertical tail section, while another 6-by-6-foot sheet of metal was also found.
The first rescuers on the scene determined quickly that no bodies were intact and most refused to describe what they had seen.
During Monday evening, there were conflicting reports about whether or not the search and recovery mission had been called off until morning due to the severe weather conditions and deep darkness.
Sgt. Jerry Parker of the ISP said early Nov. 1 that his troopers were at the scene all night long, and it was also revealed that Governor Evan Bayh had asked rescuers to keep searching for any possible survivors despite the desolate conditions.
A team of over 90 investigators forming a "go team" from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) arrived in the area late Monday night and set up headquarters at a Merrillville hotel, heading to the site early Tuesday morning after a 7 a.m. press briefing on their plans.
Meanwhile, the Village Inn restaurant near the crash site became a haven for media from around the country, as well as local rescue workers from the Lincoln Twp.Volunteer Fire Department, Newton County Emergency Medical Service, American Red Cross and Newton County Highway workers. Hundreds of sandwiches were made and gallons of coffee were served to workers when they stopped for a breather.
Classes at North Newton Junior-Senior High School were canceled Nov. 1 as investigators chose the school's new gymnasium as the site for a temporary morgue, covering the floor area with plastic sheeting. Later in the day, when it became evident that the painstaking recovery of body parts and other evidence would take a week or more, the site of the morgue was switched to the Remington National Guard Armory, and families of the victims were told they would be provided with food, lodging, and counseling if they chose to come to Jasper County.
As dawn broke Nov. 1, serial photos of the crash site showed a recently harvested farm field of about 40 acres with debris resembling confetti scattered in an oval pattern, and a bullet-shaped indentation in the soft soil, marking the path of the airplane as it dug into the ground. There was little debris recognizable except for the tail section.
Crews worked to lay a gravel road to the site so investigators and recovery workers could reach the field, starting during the cold, wet night and finishing about 7 a.m. Tuesday.
Later Tuesday, both the flight voice recorder and flight data recorder, the famous "black boxes" carried aboard all commercial aircraft, were recovered and sent to Washington, D.C. for investigation. Those at the scene were originally concerned, said the NTSB official Jim Hall, because the flight data recorder box was damaged, but the tape itself was apparently unharmed.
By Wednesday morning, Nov. 2 National Transportation Safety Board officials had learned some startling information from the voluminous information kept by the flight data recorder. It appears the ailerons, flaps on the wings that provide lateral control, began to retract from 15 degrees up to zero degrees after the crew received an audio warning that the plane was moving too fast at 213 miles per hour for the flap setting.
Once the flaps began to retract, the plane began to roll to the right, however, and the pilots were apparently able to regain control and initiate a recovery after turning off the auto-pilot. However, almost immediately the plane rolled again to the right violently and turned over completely on its back, and the pilots were unable to pull out of a 36-second dive that sent the plane crashing to the ground at over 200 mph.
Investigators began studying whether icing of the plane wings caused a malfunction with the ailerons, although they refused to come to any quick conclusions.
Another pilot who landed the same model of plane in South Bend after flying over the same territory on the afternoon of the crash reported that his plane also experienced over-steering problems to the right while the autopilot was on and ice was forming on the wings.
By midweek, the NTSB had issued a directive to pilots of ATR 72 and ATR 42 planes not to use the autopilot while flying in conditions which could cause icing of the wings.
Families of the victims, meanwhile, began to arrive at the crash site and travel to the temporary morgue in Remington in an effort to learn more about the fate of their loved ones and claim the remains and any identifiable possessions.
Police kept the families away from the immediate recovery site, while officials in Remington explained that it could be weeks before the painstaking process of matching tooth fragments to dental X-rays and completing other forensic work is completed and bodies are released to the families.
Over 1,000 body parts had been recovered by late last week, although rain again hampered recovery efforts on Friday and Saturday. Rescue crews are now trying to pump water from two, six-foot-deep trenches caused by the initial impact, believing they will find additional remains in the two holes.
Firefighters from Lincoln Twp. and surrounding communities like Lowell, Lake Dalecarlia, Shelby and Wheatfield are headquartered at the Thayer fire station, where they report for work shifts and come to rest and relax after completing their work for the day.
While memorial services for individual victims have already begun in many communities around the county, and Chicago and Indianapolis hosted special services Nov. 8, American Eagle Airlines has announced that a multi-denominational community memorial service will be held this Sat., Nov. 12, at 10:30 a.m. in the Merrillville High School gymnasium. The service is planning to honor the 68 victims of Flight 4184 and their families, and also recognize the efforts of all the volunteers and supporters who have participated in the recovery effort.
When somber rescue crews came to the realization Monday night that there were no survivors, airport and airline personnel began the grim task of verifying the identity of the victims, notifying their families and providing counselors and clergy members to offer comfort and assistance.
Soon, it became evident the victims came from all over the world, not just the Midwest. Forty-three of the passengers were using Flight 4184 as a connecting flight to reach Chicago, where they would catch another flight to their destination, About a dozen of the passengers and two crew members were from the Chicago area, including flight attendant Sandi Modaff, 27, who joined American Eagle in 1988, after three sisters had already become flight attendants. Her father said one sister stayed near the phone Tuesday, still awaiting a call from Sandi, still refusing to believe her sister is gone.
Jose W. Calderon, 24, and his father, Jose V. Calderon, a meat cutter born in Mexico, lived in Chicago, but the younger Calderon had strong ties to Northwest Indiana. He had recently graduated from the Valparaiso University School of Law, one of its most promising graduates, and had traveled to Indianapolis with his father to be sworn in to practice law in Indiana with 400 others who had recently passed the bar. The first member of his immigrant family to graduate from college, he was heading home to celebrate his bright future with his family.
Frank Sheridan, 48, of Seattle, Washington, was a Berkeley, Illinois, native who had recently moved north from California. A SCUBA diver, skydiver and airplane pilot who built his own planes, the Eagle Scout had become a hero while serving in the military in the Vietnam Conflict, earning three Purple Hearts.
Elkin Sithole, a Northeastern Illinois University professor returning home from a speaking engagement, was a South African who proudly helped organize local voting in South African elections last spring. He was a personal friend of Nelson Mandela who looked forward to helping improve education programs in his native country.
Gino DeMarco, 34, was a hotel executive from Chicago who had just bought a two-story home in suburban Mount Prospect, Illinois, two week ago. His wife, Lourdes, is expecting the couple's first child in April, and he had called home Monday afternoon to say he would be arriving about 4:30 p.m.
Those are small glimpses at the lives of just a few of the Chicagoland residents who perished in the Oct. 31 crash. Others on the flight came from California, Canada, Massachusetts, Arizona, England, Sweden, and Columbia. The release of the official flight list was delayed the night of the crash when airline officials phoned the home of one passenger whose name was on the flight list only to have the call answered by that person. Officials found out another family member had used the ticket, and caused airline officials to delay the release of the names.
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