26 March 2009

NTSB investigation of Fight 3407 crash focuses on flight crew training, performance; public hearings slated for May in DC

The National Transportation and Safety Board reported yesterday that its continuing investigation of the crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 outside Buffalo found that while there was "some" icing , it did not affect the plane's performance, and that flight data recorder analysis seemed to indicate that the pilot's actions after a stall warning set the plane on its fatal course.

The board also announced that it had voted to hold a public hearing May 12-14 at the NTSB Conference Center, 429 L'Enfant Plaza, SW, Washington, DC. “The tragedy of flight 3407 is the deadliest transportation accident in the United States in more than 7 years,” said Acting Chairman Mark V. Rosenker. “The circumstances of the crash have raised several issues that go well beyond the widely discussed matter of airframe icing, and we will explore these issues in our investigative fact-finding hearing.” The other issues, according to the NTSB statement, include "cold weather operations, sterile cockpit rules, crew experience, fatigue management, and stall recovery training."

According to the preliminary NTSB analysis, the aircraft's de-icing system was probably active, and a stall warning and protection system activated when the plane's speed and angle of attack indicated a stall may be imminent. (A stall is when a plane loses lift because its nose is too high and speed too low. The way to prevent a stall is to drop the nose and increase speed.) After the stall warning, the flight data shows that the pilot pulled back on the controls, raising the plane's nose -- the opposite of the proper reaction. The plane then stalled, rolled and crashed in Clarence Center, NY, killing all on board and one on the ground.

An Associate Press article called the hearing "unusual," because only two such hearings have been held in the past 12 years: "a 2002 hearing into the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 in a New York City residential neighborhood just two months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and a 1997 hearing on TWA Flight 800, which broke apart off the coast of Long Island, N.Y., after a fuel tank explosion, killing all 230 people aboard."

25 March 2009

Beverly was part of a large 9/11 community, united in grief and committed to action

Out of the horror and loss of the 9/11 attacks, there arose a varied and vibrant community. Its core consists mainly of survivors, family members and friends of victims, first-responders and others touched by the events of that September day. This community -- the 9/11 community -- created a number of groups and organizations to deal with the issues they confronted, from skyscraper safety, to airline security, to the creation of memorials, counseling, financial assistance, and government reform. 

Beverly became a leader in the 9/11 community, taking the initiative on a number of fronts. She also was generous with her time in supporting the work of  9/11 groups with which she was not directly involved. 

I have just come across a tribute to Beverly which appears on the home page of the September 11th Families Association. In it, Lee Ielpi describes why Beverly was such a valued and effective voice in the 9/11 community: "Beverly had a beautiful way of steering the families in the right direction. A calming force to keep a constructive dialogue in the face of tremendous emotion."

In the academic world, one expression that is used to denote such phenomena as the various 9/11 groups is "civil society." It's what happens when private individuals (as opposed to businesses or governments) join together in common cause around some issue or group of interests. No Truer Hearts will tell the story of how powerful and persuasive a grassroots movement can be.

17 March 2009

Beverly's nautical adventure: a restful and regenerative interlude

In the all-too-short time she was with us, Beverly Eckert seemed to live many lives. One of them was as first-mate, galley helper, and Scrabble master on the wistfully named catamaran "Neverland."

Once the the bulk of the 9/11 reform legislation was passed, she made a concerted effort to get out of her "comfort zone" by setting sail for long voyages with her newfound captain/friend, Shawn Monks. The harrowing and exhausting roller-coaster of Beverly's lobbying work had taken a physical and emotional toll, and she took to the sea to rest, refresh and just forget the stress and toil she had taken on after the death of her husband.

Part of life on the water seems to be the frequent and easy making of new friends. I recently happened upon the web site of sailor and motivational speaker Neal Peterson, who, along with his wife, Darlene, had met Shawn and Beverly as they sailed down the Intercoastal Waterway. Neal's tribute to Beverly is a touching reminder that there was so much more to her life than trips to Washington and interviews with Tom Brokaw. Of course, I will describe this restful, but also exciting period of Beverly's life in the book, because it was when she began to return to being the Beverly Eckert whose eyes were more often bright with joy, whose smile shone more regularly as warm as the Caribbean sun.

16 March 2009

Beverly's final trip to Washington: a persistent patriot asking for "justice, not vengeance"

When Beverly Eckert decided to do something, it got done. In my article for the History News Network about her visit with President Obama, this was one aspect of her character that I wanted to highlight: her persistence and focus. She was among a small group of 9/11 family members who closely followed how al-Qaeda suspects were being brought to justice (or not). And Beverly made sure that her voice was heard regarding, for example, the detainee facility at Guantanamo Bay, even at times when the Bush administration preferred to push aside critics of its policies.

Another quality Beverly had in abundance was patriotism. Not the blind, flag-waving sort, but the deep, committed and knowledgeable kind. For her, love of country meant not merely putting a bumper sticker on your car, but knowing the Constitution and demanding that it be upheld. It also meant being an active citizen. If nothing else, Beverly Eckert was the most active of citizens.

As she was waiting for her flight from Washington, Beverly basked in the afterglow of a successful meeting to which not only her 9/11 sisters-in-arms from past political battles were invited, but also family members who opposed President Obama's policies and plans. “Having a president who is willing to meet ordinary citizens like us,” said Eckert, “and make himself available for questioning even from those who were in opposition to his agenda made me very proud to be an American.”

Freedom. To speak, to debate, to disagree. That was the flag that Beverly was happy to wave, the flag of freedom.

14 March 2009

Beverly Eckert's view of 9/11 truth was based on a rational, critical, common-sense worldview

Followers of the so-called "9/11 truth movement" like to invent conspiracies and portray activists like Beverly as their allies. While some 9/11 survivors and family members do actually cross the line from the real world to the make-believe land of this fringe movement, Beverly Eckert never did. She had a clear-eyed, rational view of the world in which real terrorists hijacked real airplanes, crashed them, and caused unimaginable mayhem and destruction. Along the way there was also a long, sad trail of official incompetence, ignorance and duplicity. But Beverly avoided association with people who smelled of conspiracy theories, whether they were touting a book, film, or website. 

Although she and other members of the Family Steering Committee were critical of the 9-11 Commission many times as it carried out its work, once the report was issued Beverly embraced it as the best outcome that could be expected, considering the compromises needed along the way. She was skeptical of dodgy official excuses, yes; but was accepting of rational explanations based on hard evidence and common sense. This article about Beverly at counterknowledge.com gets it right, and appears in a blog devoted to debunking the "truthers" and other purveyors of pop-culture piffle. And here is another, on the screwloosechange blog, along the same lines. 

In many public statements, and in interviews with me, Beverly expressed frustration with officials who stonewalled or lied. But she was equally adamant about constructing a 9/11 truth based on evidence, not conjecture or fantasy. 

And after her death, the wild-eyed conspirators continued to have a field day, attributing the plane crash to sinister government designs, for example. Another thread of "truth movement" fiction involves Beverly's meeting with President Obama just days before her death. According to this groundless speculation, she had a secret request to make of the president: establish a new 9/11 commission to uncover the "truths" left buried by the original one. Beverly gave me a detailed account of her participation in the meeting, and her sole pleas to the president were to close the Guantanamo detainee facilities and to bring the 9/11 attack suspects to trial in the US. 

On Monday, an article I wrote about the meeting will appear on the History News Network site. And in due course I'll publish in this blog a copy of Beverly's letter to the president. Documents such as these are the real basis of truth.

13 March 2009

Artists of western New York raising funds for Flight 3407 memorial in Clarence with new CD

A group of musical artists from western New York has created a song, "Love Knows No Boundaries," to commemorate the victims of Flight 3407, honor their loved ones, and thank the first responders. Proceeds from the CD will go toward a memorial in the town of Clarence. The song will debut at a performance on March 19 at the Eastern Hills Wesleyan Church in Williamsville, NY. For more information, and a link to a brief preview of the song, visit loveknowsnoboundaries.org. 

11 March 2009

Beverly memories online: Songs for Sean on the Sonic Memorial Project

For all its many faults, the Internet can be a great tool for teaching, remembering and reaching out. Beverly's desire to leave behind her memories and a record of her post-9/11 activities has resulted in small caches of treasure online.

One of these is an audio clip of Beverly talking about songs that Sean loved or were "part of the story of his life." To surprise him on his 50th birthday, Beverly gave a list of songs to her sister to burn onto a CD. In the online audio clip, Beverly talks us through parts of the CD, doing a passable rendition of the opening track, "Come Softly to Me" by the Fleetwoods. You can hear the lightness and the love in her voice when she describes her husband's reaction on hearing the first song. "And I remember when we first played it for Sean, you know, when he got the CD, the smile on his face when he heard it..."

But Beverly never shied away from discussing the difficult times in her life, and one of these was the beginning of her long relationship with Sean. Another track on the gift CD was "Town Without Pity" by Gene Pitney. "When you're young and so in love as we," the song begins, "and bewildered by the world we see, why do people hurt us so? Only those in love would know what a town without pity can do." Beverly recalled that she and Sean were 16 when they met. "Nobody thought it could possibly last. The adults of the place gave us quite a hard time." But as in much of her life, there was triumph and vindication after adversity. "And we were right, because we stayed together for 34 years."

To listen to the audio clip, visit the archive page of the Sonic Memorial Project, which was established by National Public Radio. Type "Eckert" into the search box and the link to Beverly's clip will appear (after clicking the "Go" button).

09 March 2009

Beverly recalled as a generous, kind soul in Stamford memorial service

Beverly had told me about her recent volunteer activities, tutoring and building, but in this Lisa Chamoff article I learned for the first time that helping the poor and homeless years ago were also among Beverly's kind and generous acts.

At the memorial service held on Saturday in Stamford, Julie Jochim said she had met Beverly 20 years ago in a Salvation Army soup kitchen, according to the article. And when the modest facilities of the soup kitchen fell short of the need, Beverly made batches of lasagna and meatloaf in her own kitchen. On a cold December, Beverly brought sleeping bags, warm clothing and other items to some homeless people seeking shelter under an I-95 overpass in Stamford. "We will always remember Beverly for these and the other quiet, unpretentious acts of caring and kindness that flowed from her so naturally," Jochim said. "She touched so many lives with her gentle goodness."

And here is a brief video segment of the service, with mention of Beverly's Habitat for Humanity work, and a clip of the Julia A. Stark Elementary School's students singing "Somewhere, Over the Rainbow."

05 March 2009

Inspired words for an inspiring woman: From Beverly's memorial service in Buffalo

The memorial service in Stamford on February 21 helped Beverly's relatives and friends remember and celebrate a life beautifully lived, with the help of soulfully performed music and heartfelt words. Now everyone can be carried by the inspired words spoken by some of Beverly's relatives, with full texts appearing on the family's memorial web site.

Beverly's sister, Margot, wrote "Strong Woman," a sparkling and warm poem showing Beverly's many sides, her many endeavors and accomplishments through the years. Here is the first verse.
My little girl sister
could out bike, out dodge ball, and out hide and seek the
neighborhood gang,
fort building, tree climbing, cowboy hat and Cisco Kidding,
mouseketeering, red wagoneering
jump roping, hop scotching,
Playground pal, was my little girl sister.
Ray Eckert, Beverly's brother, read a  passage written by Martin Luther King, Jr.
If a man or a woman happens to be 36 years old, as I happen to be,
and some great truth stands before the door of their life,
some great opportunity to stand up for what is right and that which is just,
and he or she refuses to stand up because of a desire to live a little longer,
or he or she is afraid to lose a job.
They may go on and live to be 80,
and the cessation of breathing in their life
is merely the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.
We die when we refuse to stand up for that which is right.
We die when we refuse to take a stand for that which is true.
So we are going to stand up right here,
Letting the world know we are determined to be free.
The eulogy was delivered by Bill Bourque, Beverly's brother-in-law. For family members, it reminded them of happier times, before the day that horribly changed her life. And for those of us who only knew the "activist Beverly," the tales of outings and projects and loving family connections made us smile and realize there was so much more to Beverly's life than trips to Washington, vigils and interviews.
When she first met Sean, Sean's younger brother Ben asked Sean to "make her go away". Since this was 40 plus years ago and Ben was only four at the time, we have not held this against him. Fortunately, Beverly didn’t go away. If there is anything that best describes her, it is loyalty to family and friends. She loved her nieces and nephews as if they were her own children. She followed their successes and their struggles and talked about them often. She broadened our children’s horizons with trips to New York City and Boston; to Thanksgiving Day parades and the Freedom Trail. ..to Faneuil Hall and to Central Park. We all knew that if you visited Beverly and Sean you better get a good night's sleep. You would be up early. No sitting around. A long, strenuous day was ahead. But we had fun... great fun.

A unanimous House resolves: The US will be "forever grateful" for Beverly's service

The House of Representatives yesterday voted 419 to 0 to approve Resolution 201 to recognize the service of Beverly Eckert to the nation, and in particular to survivors and families of victims of the 9/11 attacks. (Twelve House members did not vote on the resolution.)

"We have lost an inspiring and tenacious woman in Beverly," said Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-NY, the resolution's sponsor. "We must continue to honor her memory and her accomplishment, and carry on her mission."

The resolution noted that Beverly "was instrumental in the development and growth" of Voices of September 11th, which she co-founded with Mary Fetchet. The two women were co-chairs of the group until about early 2003, when Beverly resigned her leadership position.  "Voices" has thousands of members, and provides information, support and advocacy for 9/11 survivors and families of the victims. "Beverly Eckert worked admirably with the 110th Congress," the resolution continues, "and was a key proponent in the final passage of the 'Implementing the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act of 2007.'" 

The text of the resolution appears in the Connecticut Post article by Peter Urban.