When I was two years old my father, Tim Davis, was killed in the crash of USAir Flight 427 along with 131 other people on September 08, 1994. I have no memory of him. I sought out others who had lost loved ones in the crash as well as those who were involved in the aftermath.
The first time I visited the crash site since I was a child I accompanied one of the first responders, John, who I had been put in contact with in the summer of 2013.
John told me that you could hear sirens wailing through the valley deep into the night. He remembered the responders being shuttled up the road to the crash site and how when they returned, their demeanors had changed. When they came back down they looked exhausted and broken from their inability to do their jobs, to help.
He told me that every person who went up there that day came down a different person. They couldn’t shake what they had seen. John still sees the crash site the way it was moments after the crash, after he stepped through the brush and called out over the field of debris to see if anyone was alive.
John told me that they couldn’t clean everything up, about how when it rains the soil turns over and new pieces surface and resurface.
The landowner came up to check out who we were. John saw him coming first and approached him softly, pulling out the Flight 427 Air Disaster Support League membership card from his wallet. John told him that I was there to take pictures and that my dad was on the plane. I nodded. The guy looked at me, nodded, said he was just coming up to check because sometimes they get people who come to poke around. He told us that he puts the debris behind the memorial so that when he goes to cut the grass he won’t cut it all up. We thanked him and he left.
John told me how these things would be here longer than the both of us, that they would never go away.
I have no memory of our time together so I revisit the places where we shared time to hold my father in my thoughts.
Walking through our old neighborhood home videos overlay the streets and yards where we were together. In the streets I see packs of wandering kids roaming from house to house. I see our old house. Mom is waving from the front porch with me on her hip as my dad pans the camera between us and my brother who is learning to ride his first bike.
I wait to see if my mom will take the camera, but she often never does and all I hear is his voice, calling out to me.
One day I went to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette to meet with journalists who had been working on that day in 1994. They told me how vivid that day still was to them. It was a tragedy that touched the greater Pittsburgh region and its communities; most of the victims were from the area.
Bill Schackner had just arrived for his night shift when the call came in. He told me that he had gotten false alarms before and usually was called back while on his way to the potential site, but this time he didn’t get called back. He remarked to me something that I had heard many times over the years, that the weather was perfect that day and that things like that just don’t happen on such beautiful days.
As we descended the hill, John told me he could show me the spot where he used to watch planes land and take off. He did this as a sort of therapy, as a way to put things back in a kind of mechanical natural order.
We stopped off near the airport and went into the backfield of the car lot where he watched planes. He pointed to a runway a few hundred yards slightly over a hill and told me that it was the runway my father’s plane was supposed to land on.
We stood there and watched as planes landed and others took off. They rose up and away, growing smaller and smaller, finally disappearing past the horizon into the darkening night.