'You keep expecting them to come back' CRASH OF USAIR FLIGHT 427

September 11, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Correspondent

UPPER ST. CLAIR, Pa. -- Someone else will have to videotape the Sunday service at the local Presbyterian church.

Someone else will have to hand-sew all the Halloween costumes for the neighborhood children.

There will be no more skating through church hallways. There will be two fewer kickball players for the nightly games on Tiffany Circle.

The Earl Weaver family is dead -- a father, mother, two sons and a daughter -- all victims of the Thursday night crash of USAir Flight 427.

"You keep expecting them to come back," said neighbor Lily Brindle, standing across the street from a home that is now dark. "But they're not."

The Weavers are now symbols of a disaster. They went to Chicago to attend the funeral of a 9-year-old relative who died after an asthma attack, and attempted to rush home Thursday night so the three children could attend the second day of school the next morning. The flight, though, ended in 23 seconds of terror as the Boeing 737 lurched left and smashed nose-first into a hillside.

"It's like they vanished," Mrs. Brindle said. "There are no bodies. There is no closure to this."

There is only grief in this affluent suburb 13 miles from downtown Pittsburgh. This is a place of immaculate lawns, big homes and foreign cars.

Bad things don't normally happen to people here. But quick, violent death has come to Upper St. Clair. Besides the Weavers, three business executives from this town of 20,000 were also aboard the doomed passenger jet.

And now, in schools, food markets, and the Weavers' church, Westminster Presbyterian, people are struggling with the question: Why?

"I don't believe there was a divine intervention in this," said the Rev. David Fillpot, pastor of the church, an imposing red- brick building with a white steeple that is the town landmark.

"I do not believe that God intends or causes these kinds of things to happen," he said. "No way. It's life. Something went wrong. People want to look for a why and a blame. But that is useless."

Across western Pennsylvania and other parts of the nation this weekend, knots of grieving families are trying to make sense of the tragedy.

James Eller of Plum, 38, and a father of three, missed an earlier flight by 15 minutes. Timothy Davis of Cranberry, 35, and a father of three, got aboard standby. For Thomas Szczur of Johnstown, 42, and a father of three, his first airplane flight became his last.

One hundred thirty-two people -- businessmen, students, pilots, flight attendants, strangers -- are now linked forever in tragedy.

But the gravest loss of all took a family.

The Weavers.

"If there is such a thing as an all-American family, then they were," said the Rev. David Turner, associate pastor at Westminster Presbyterian.

They were pretty and handsome and athletic all at once, a family of faith and fun.

There was Earl, 50, an only child, survived by both his parents. For 29 years he worked for Harbison-Walker Refractories, climbing the ranks to area manager for international business development.

"At work Friday, there was an empty feeling," said Peter Antimarino, his supervisor. "Everyone was just walking around stunned. You tried to comfort one another."

Marathon runner, Boy Scout leader, active church member, Earl Weaver was behind the video camera every Sunday keeping a taped record of services at Westminster Presbyterian.

Kathleen, 44, knew the airline business from the inside, working part-time as a flight attendant for British Airways. She was a Girl Scout leader, taught Sunday school, and made sure the neighborhood kids were properly outfitted for Halloween. "She was the kind of woman who made all the wreaths that hung around the house at Christmas," said Mrs. Brindle.

The kids were bright, attractive, inquisitive.

Brian, 16, a junior at Upper St. Clair High School, was the youngest to make Eagle Scout in the area. He played hockey and guitar. He also liked to skate past the pastors at church.

"It took people a while on Friday to accept the fact that he was dead," said Candace Stockey, a classmate. "We were sitting in Spanish class when an aide came in and whispered something to the teacher. The teacher just said, 'Oh my God,' and raced out."

Lindsay, 11, was a fifth-grader at Boyce Middle School. Warm and affectionate, she would begin choir rehearsal by hugging her teacher.

Scott, 7, was a second-grader at Baker Elementary School who loved joining his sister in the neighborhood kickball game.

Mr. Turner said that his concern now is directed at the children of this community. They have suffered a horrible loss, many experiencing the death of a friend or loved one for the first time.

"The kids just want to express their grief," he said. "Bitterness. Anger. Frustration. Hurt. That all has to come out and that could take months."

One parent asked Mr. Turner how he should explain the deaths to his child. "I told him to be honest and be consistently there for that kid," he said.

The pastor said that a meeting with the church youth group Friday night was particularly wrenching.

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