Tuesday, September 23, 2014

When Larry fell out of the sky over Scotland

Almost twenty-six years ago, the man that I replaced for my first job as a chemist was on a plane that was blown up over Scotland, presumably by Libyan terrorists.

And not any plane, the very same plane we were often on on our trips to NY. Pan Am had a flight originating out of Detroit that went to JFK then on to London then on to Frankfurt. Most of the passengers came from JFK so there were plenty of empty seats to JFK which Pan Am sold cheaply to those on standby. JFK was the most convenient airport to Steve's parents' place but mostly international flights went there. Almost all flights to NYC from Detroit go to LaGuardia or Newark, not convenient at all for us. Extra bonus: as this was an international flight, Pan Am gave us welcoming packages that included wine.

Larry was on the reverse route originating from Frankfurt coming home for Christmas. He was in Germany for business, long since promoted beyond his bench chemist days. The plane stopped in London for more passengers and luggage. There was presumably a warning a few weeks previous about a semtex bomb that would be placed in a Swedish passenger's luggage (who would not know it) on this flight but some how the warning was buried under paperwork. Not long after the London stopover, in 8 seconds radar showed a blip that was a mile wide.

What passengers bought tickets for this flight but didn't get on? Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols and the lady that would play Samantha on Sex in the City. More suspicious was an Indian guy who had gone to a wedding and was having a few drinks after his luggage had been checked and lost track of the time and missed boarding by a few minutes but he was cleared. He said he was haunted for years about the What ifs. Fate.

I soon met Larry as he was on the same contract as I was to prepare compounds for the National Cancer Institute. There were chemists in Detroit and Ann Arbor. He preferred to work in Ann Arbor so I got his job in Detroit. Once he vacated his job in Ann Arbor on the contract, I was able to get that job too and move to Ann Arbor (I never stopped living in Ann Arbor hoping for that day). He and his wife (Sue!!) went to a meeting with Steve and me a few years later and at dinner, he told us about their Peace Corps  work in the 70s in Afghanistan. His wife went there as a nurse. One mother-in-law brought her daughter-in-law to the clinic demanding to know why there were no grandchildren. Um, the girl hadn't hit puberty. Their stay was shortened by a coup.

Larry was an excellent softball player and played on the same team as Steve for a few seasons. He studied business on the side and soon was promoted out of the lab into management and put into the position that would lead to him being blown out of the sky. Fate. This was  very big news in 1988. 243 passengers were killed and a few more on the ground. I couldn't stop thinking about sweet Larry falling from the dark sky. I always assumed he was freefalling but I have since heard that the front of the plane laded relatively intact, the first class section. He was in seat 15J. Was that first class? One passenger was still alive when a Lockerbie villager found her but couldn't get help fast enough.

We will be flying to Milan from JFK in less than 3 weeks. Must, must make arrangements.

1 comment:

Elephant's Child said...

The world is a very tiny place some days.
A haunting post today...


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