'We felt their pain'

Family members hold service for crash victims

May 15, 1996
Web posted at: 11:45 p.m. EDT

Teddy bear

MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- A teddy bear, photographs, wreaths and flowers floated on the murky waters of the Florida Everglades at sunset Wednesday as friends and family paid tribute to the loved ones they lost when ValuJet Flight 592 went down last weekend.

Four buses and one van carrying some 100 mourners made their way along a levee a few hundred yards from the crash site after a solemn memorial service that lasted about 45 minutes. (748K QuickTime movie)


"It was very quiet," said Lt. Roman Bas of Metro Dade Fire-Rescue. "There was a moment of silence when the airboats took the wreaths out to the site. A lot of the family members at that point could no longer hold back their tears and emotions. And, neither could we." (196K AIFF sound or 196K WAV sound of Bas describing the moment)

Rescue workers, who have spent the last five days looking for wreckage and bodies from the ill-fated aircraft, stood in line as the vehicles passed them by after the ceremony, some as emotional as the passengers on the bus.

Fernandez quote

(119K AIFF sound or 119K WAV sound)

Some passengers on the bus waved at the rescue workers; others got down to shake hands. "There was a connecting that took place here this evening," said Luis Fernandez, a member of the Metro Dade Fire-Rescue team.

"It was a step to begin to heal," he said of the families' visit. "They were allowed to have another sense of, if you will, what the Everglades is about. About what the rescuers, the divers, the personnel here are doing." (264K AIFF sound or 263K WAV sound)

Fernandez said some mourners took pictures; some spent moments staring at the swampland; and some prayed.

Bas, who worked in the Oklahoma City bombing rescue operation, said Wednesday's memorial service was the saddest incident he had ever had to deal with personally. . "We didn't have contact with the families (in the Oklahoma City tragedy ) as much as we did here," he said. "Here, we spoke with them, we bonded with them, we felt their pain."

Bas said the families were very strong until the bus reached the scene of the tragedy.


"I explained to them that if they looked out the window and could see the orange markers, they would be able to see approximately the area in which the plane went down," he said. "At that time, silence overcame the entire bus ..."

Evelyn Wilson, who lost her sister-in-law in the crash, said visiting the place where a loved one died can make up for not being able to see the body. (213K AIFF sound or 213K WAV sound)

In the hours before the ceremony, charred wreckage and more human remains were recovered as the death toll climbed to 110 with the addition of a 4-year-old girl. The child was not on the passenger list, ValuJet said.

A Farewell at Sunset | Victims of Flight 592 Picture Gallery

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