FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Forty years have passed since Eastern Flight 401 slammed down in the Everglades, yet no memorial has been raised to remember the 101 people who perished that night.
It's time to change that, say survivors and families of the victims, who hope to raise $15,000 for a granite block containing the names of those who died.
"We want to get something that's permanent, because the memory lives on forever," said Ron Infantino, a passenger on the Lockheed-1011 that crashed 18 miles northwest of Miami on Dec. 29, 1972.
On Saturday, at 4 p.m. EST, about 40 survivors and family members will gather at the ValuJet Memorial in far southwest Miami-Dade County to remember those lost on the Eastern flight. ValuJet Flight 592 crashed about two miles away from the Eastern site — 24 years later.
"That's about as close as we'll get to the actual site," said Beverly Raposa, a flight attendant credited with keeping survivors calm by having them sing Christmas carols until rescuers arrived.
The memorial she and others are hoping for would be placed on the grounds of the Glenn H. Curtiss Mansion and Gardens, near Miami International Airport.
"In our hearts, it was like yesterday," said Raposa, who today is vice president of a financial marketing company in West Palm Beach, Fla. "In our hearts, we carry 101 passengers and crew members who didn't make it out that night."
Eastern Flight 401 took off from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport with 163 travelers and 13 crew members. While approaching Miami, the pilots fixated on a burned-out cockpit indicator light and didn't notice the autopilot had been accidentally turned off.
By the time the pilots realized the jetliner had been gradually descending, it was too late. The plane splashed into the muck and broke apart.
"To my dying day, I will hear it and see it," Raposa said of the moment the plane hit.
Infantino, of Coral Gables, Fla., lost his bride of only 20 days, Lilly, in the accident. They had been returning to South Florida after visiting relatives in New York. He, meanwhile, nearly died from severe arm and leg injuries.
"I was naked in the water for hours before they found me. It was horrible," said Infantino, who has worked for Aflac Insurance for 35 years.
During Saturday's ceremony at the ValuJet memorial, which is on the Tamiami Trail, Infantino plans to leave two flower wreaths, one for those who died on the ValuJet plane, one for those on Flight 401. Then a bell is to be rung as the name of each victim is mentioned. The public is invited to attend.
After that ceremony, the Flight 401 survivors and family members will hold another candlelight remembrance at the 94th Aero Squadron Restaurant near Miami International Airport.