Grateful They Missed Their FlightBy Joseph W. Queen and Bob Liff
Her train was still racing toward London Wednesday when the flight that
Jennie Lee Aikenhead was trying to make took off without her from Heathrow
Pan Am Flight 103 never made it home. Yesterday, Aikenhead did.
Aikenhead, 21, a senior at Clinton Community College in Plattsburgh, was studying art history in Florence, Italy, as part of a Syracuse University foreign study program this semester. At least 35 students enrolled in that program were among the 258 passengers and crew who perished when the jetliner crashed Wednesday in Scotland.
"I wanted to make that flight," she said, sobbing as she was buried in the embraces of her mother and father at Kennedy International Airport. She arrived there yesterday afternoonon the first Pan Am flight from London after the fatal flight. "I'm one of the lucky ones."
She was not alone. Several stories emerged in the aftermath of the crash of Flight 103 of would-be passengers who missed their flight. "I take that flight sometimes," said an ashen-faced Henry Maddocks, of Huntington, after he arrived at Kennedy late Wednesday on a British Airways flight that left London 30 minutes after the fatal flight. Maddocks, like all the passengers on the British jet, did not know about the crash until arriving in New York.
"It was just the timing of meetings this afternoon, so I took the later flight," Maddocks said. ""It's really a shock. It's hard to come to grips with it. I feel pretty lucky."
Jacob Gold, of Brooklyn, said he switched to British Airways because he went to the wrong terminal at Heathrow, and feared he couldn't get to the Pan Am flight in time. "I feel shock," said Gold, who traveled with his sister-in-law and her son. "I'm still under shock. I'm very, very happy."
Aikenhead's good fortune stemmed from the fact that her final exam in Italian Renaissance opera ran late. ."I don't think I did very well," she said, "but I don't really care." Aikenhead's parents, Rennie and Jennie Lee, had heard about the crash while at their Spring Lake, N.J., home, and knew that Jennie Lee had an open ticket home, and might have been on the doomed flight. "I knew she'd call," Mrs. Aikenhead said yesterday. "Don't ask me how, but I knew she'd call."
Her daughter did not learn about the crash until hours later when she arrived at the home of a family friend in Uxford, England, where she spent the night waiting for the next flight home. "I couldn't believe it," she said of the crash after learning about it from television news. "That could have been me." Then she realized what her parents must be thinking. She picked up the telephone. Nobody was asleep. "We cried a lot when the call came," her father said. "It was the best Christmas gift we could have gotten. We got our daughter." Aikenhead said nothing was said about the crash on her flight yesterday. But when the plane touched down in New York, she said, the passengers broke into "a big round of applause."
"It's a tragedy," she said of the crash. "No one deserves to die like that."
Joseph W. Queen, Bob Liff, Grateful They Missed Their Flight., 12-23-1988, pp 17.