There was a lot of intrigue surrounding the crash forty-years-ago today of United Flight 553 into a neighborhood near Chicago’s Midway Airport. When the flight took off from National Airport, among the passengers on board the Boeing 737 was Dorothy Hunt, the wife of Watergate conspirator E. Howard Hunt. She was carrying $10,000 in cash. In another seat was CBS reporter Michele Clark who was following the Watergate story. Both died in the crash along with 41 other people on the plane and two women on the ground.
But the story we are bringing you today isn’t about those who died. It’s about one of the 18 people on the plane who lived and the Chicago firefighter who found her and helped bring her to safety. It’s written by my friend Tom Jackman at The Washington Post.
Tom recently talked with Ashburn, Virginia resident Marguerite McCausland, now 77, who was a stewardess working the first class section of the flight. It was Firefighter John “Duke” O’Malley who discovered McCausland alive, still strapped in a jump seat and buried under debris with flames all around her. It was O’Malley who stayed with her and helped free McCausland as hoses played on the flames.
Items from the plane’s galley and bathroom crashed down on top of her, then bricks from one of the houses. She was pinned. Elsewhere in the plane, “people were trapped. I could hear them dying.” She heard a baby crying, then stop. “I couldn’t see any of this. I do remember I could feel parts of my body burning.”
After 20 minutes, “I remember the firemen coming in,” McCausland said. “One of them came in and said, ‘There’s no one alive in here.’ I probably did something to let them know I was there.”
O’Malley climbed over to her. “He said, ‘I’m going to throw a cloth over your face,’” McCausland recalled, “’because we’re going to cut you out and I don’t want you to get burned.’”
Frank Hanes, a photographer from Chicago Today, watched and wrote: ”The heat from the fire was terrific but there were these men right in the middle of the flames trying to save a stewardess. The firemen kept a steady stream of water on her while the rescuers worked for about 10 minutes in the midst of the fire before they finally got her out alive.”
Tom tells us the firefighter and the stewardess and their spouses became friends and stayed in touched for many years. Firefighter O’Malley died last year.
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