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Anxious Relatives Gather to Await Word at John Wayne Airport : Anxious Relatives Await Word at John Wayne Airport

August 17, 1987|DAVID REYES and NANCY WRIDE | Times Staff Writers

At John Wayne Airport, all that appeared on the flight announcement screen about the crashed Northwest airliner was a terse message:

"Cancelled Flight. See Agent."

As relatives began to show up, well before Flight 255's scheduled 10:30 p.m. arrival, Northwest employees immediately escorted them to an Orange County sheriff's security office at the airport.

In a short statement at 10 p.m., the airline said that "less than 10" people had reservations from Detroit to John Wayne Airport, although no passenger list was released. Most of the passengers were scheduled to get off the plane at its earlier stop in Phoenix.

Looking for Information

By late evening, about five people had gathered. Most had already heard about the tragedy, and knew they were not going to be picking anyone up. They were looking for information, and hoping that their friend or relative was not aboard.

One Newport Beach resident, who refused to identify himself, briefly emerged from the security office, obviously distraught.

"I wasn't 100% sure, but I think my brother is on that flight," he said, "because he was scheduled to come home from Detroit today."

He had heard about the crash on the radio, he said. But he could not find out from Northwest officials whether his brother was a passenger.

Seeks News of Husband

Neither could Rebecca Wilder of San Clemente, who came seeking news of her husband, William. He too may or may not have been on the plane.

William Wilder, who was visiting his sick mother in Michigan, talked to her Saturday night and told her he was "going to Detroit," Wilder said, and his last words to her were: "I'll see you tomorrow (Sunday) night in Orange County."

She was not sure he was on that particular flight. "All they tell me," she said, "is they don't know any details. So here I am sitting and worrying."

She talked to several Northwest officials, was referred to others, and then back to the originals. But she still had no answers.

"And here I am . . . "

"My sister is on that plane," said a young man wearing a football jersey. Tears flowed from his eyes as he pounded a wall with his fist.

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