After she and her husband, Steve, lost five family members in the Aeromexico plane crash over Cerritos on Aug. 31, 1986, Denise Guzman wanted to do something constructive about promoting flight safety "to make some good come of this tragedy."
Until this June, she devoted her efforts to CUFFS, Citizens United for Flight Safety, and as its president spoke to California legislative panels, state and national politicians and representatives of the National Transportation and Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration.
But last week, having resigned as CUFFS leader, Guzman, 33, started getting in touch with politicians again--this time for another cause that she believes is of more immediate need, a bereavement center for persons whose families and friends have been killed in air crashes.
Guzman, a hairdresser from Whittier, has now founded the Air Disaster Victims for Victims Center and will decide Jan. 5 which of two Southern California hospitals she will pick for the site of the center, to be dedicated in memory of the victims of Aeromexico Flight 498.
Steve Guzman's father, Manuel, his uncles Joe Guzman and Frank Corella and cousins Robert Guzman and Mark Corella were killed in the mid-air collision over Cerritos. But Denise Guzman decided not to dedicate the new center to the family by name, but to the 82 people who died in the tragedy.
"That's one of the problems I had with CUFFS," Guzman said. "Everything had to focus on Cerritos, and I don't think that's the way it should be. Air safety does not start and end with Cerritos. It should be everywhere."
Guzman has been in touch with families who lost loved ones in other air crashes, among them in Dallas and San Diego, and many have volunteered to help get the center started. Persons interested in helping with the project may call Guzman at (213) 863-3471.
"There is a great need for people who have suddenly lost family in an air disaster," Guzman continued. "We are setting up guidelines to follow, procedures to take and what to do when you're faced with losing family members in this way. There is no place you can call, so the need is great. And it's not just for families of people in the large plane crashes. We will be able to help those people who have lost family in small planes. . . . They need the same assistance as we did in a major disaster. Their families feel the same hurt."
When the center is fully operational, Guzman expects to have volunteers, people who have been through the same kind of situation of losing loved ones in a plane crash, to talk with the families and also provide counseling from grief therapists and psychologists.
"I want to have it set up so the therapy can be donated to patients, or they can pay," she explained. "Some people won't take charity, and others need it and can't afford it.
"If the center does as well as I hope," said Guzman, "I want to get politicians involved so they can see the real need. I'd like to have fund-raisers so we can expand here, and eventually, to go to every other state and set up such centers."
Guzman said she probably will have to sell her hair salon, because she believes she won't have enough time to work on the center project, go to work every day and raise their children, three boys and a girl.
"There are just so many things to do in the face of a disaster, and nobody to tell you how or what," Guzman said. "They have bereavement centers at many hospitals for drunk drivers, cancer patients, AIDS, people who have lost family members overdosing on drugs. But nothing specific for air disaster victims. With our center, we'll be able to tell them from first hand experience."
Recalling her family's trauma when learning of the crash of Flight 498, Guzman said: "Of all the things I can tell others, the most important is not to go to the plane crash site like we did. We made a terrible mistake doing that.