Abingdon woman who survived crash of plane in Ga. is reunited with 'angels'

February 01, 1996|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,SUN STAFF

In a tearful and joyous reunion, a Harford County art teacher who survived a horrific plane crash in August is being visited by "angels" -- the Georgia couple she credits with saving her life.

"I was on my knees, praying that God would help me, and I looked up and saw Elbert on the hill," Mary Dawn Dumm said yesterday of Elbert Eason's arrival in the aftermath of the deadly Aug. 21 crash in a hayfield near his home in Burwell, Ga.

Twisting her hands together in remembered pain -- the crash left her face, back and legs severely burned from boiling hydraulic fluid and her left foot nearly severed -- she recalled reaching out to Mr. Eason and begging him to find her injured mother.

"He came running over to me and told me he would never leave me, that he would stay with me and take care of me," Mrs. Dumm said as she sat in her Abingdon home with Mr. Eason, 60, and his wife, Julia, 57.

The couple arrived Tuesday, making an 860-mile journey by car for their first visit to Mrs. Dumm since she was flown home in September after 31 days in a Georgia hospital.

They are returning home today, but promised that the visit would not be their last.

Mrs. Dumm and her mother were flying to Mississippi to visit a sister when the Easons heard the commuter plane crash that afternoon about three blocks from their home.

Among the first people at the site, Mr. Eason told of hearing the pilot and co-pilot screaming to be cut free of the burning plane, of people begging for water to be poured on their scorched bodies, and of finding Mrs. Dumm, 41, huddled in agony, blood gushing from her foot.

Mr. Eason, a retiree who was trained in first aid as a foreman at Georgia Power, said he gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to Mrs. Dumm when she lost consciousness and stopped breathing and elevated her left leg in an attempt to stop the bleeding.

"I knew she was gone if I didn't try and help her," Mr. Eason said, adding that there were other injured he could not help.

Five people died in the crash of Atlantic Southeast Airlines Flight 529, and five others -- including Mrs. Dumm's mother, Mary Jean Adair of Pittsburgh -- died later from their injuries.

The small plane, carrying 29 people, is believed to have crashed after the propeller of its left engine snapped, said Mrs. Dumm's husband, Larry, a division chief at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Three lawsuits by Marylanders were filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, alleging negligence leading to the crash and seeking a total of $50 million in damages from Atlantic Southeast and related companies.

Two of the cases were brought by families of people who died in the crash. The daughters of Bond Rhue, 56, of Laurel, a senior litigator for the U.S. Department of Justice, sued for $20 million.

Linda Agar-Hendrix of Ijamsville sought the same amount for the estate of her husband, Michael, a 35-year-old engineer with Science Applications International Corp. in Falls Church, Va.

The third suit, seeking $10 million, was filed by the injured John Tweedy and his wife, Carrolina Tweedy, of Gaithersburg.

Mrs. Dumm -- who has undergone 10 operations and wears an orthopedic brace on her left foot -- said she is waiting for a National Transportation Safety Board report on the crash before she can comment on potential litigation.

She needs a walker or wheelchair to get around, and said she does not know when she might return to her job at Ring Factory Elementary School in Bel Air.

Her memories of the crash remain vivid -- especially the 10 minutes after the pilot warned that the Embraer 120 turboprop might crash if he could not make an emergency landing.

She said she held her mother's hand and prayed, and wrote messages to her husband and sons Zeke, 4, and Lucas, 8.

"I thought I was going to die. I tore the cover off a book and on the front I wrote to my husband and sons they were the light of my life and that I would love them always." On the other side, she told the boys to "be good always."

Writing her name and home phone number in one corner, Mrs. Dumm folded the paper into quarters and tucked it inside the fanny pack around her waist.

Then the plane hit the ground about seven miles short of the West Georgia Regional Airport, breaking in two.

Mrs. Dumm said she was trapped by fallen galley cabinets, with the boiling hydraulic fluid pouring on her until she and her mother managed to lift them.

They crawled onto a wing, where her mother started to drop to the ground and was burned by flaming grass. Screaming at her to roll to put out the flames, Mrs. Dumm said she crawled about 200 feet into a meadow full of wildflowers and butterflies.

She gave the farewell note to Mr. Eason, and asked him to call her husband.

Mrs. Eason made the call and then returned to stay with Mrs. Dumm until ambulances arrived. To the Easons' horror, other neighbors from the small farming community refused to get involved and stood well back from the wreckage.

"There is no way I could have walked away. I believe we are here to help each other," said Mrs. Eason, who stayed with Mrs. Dumm in the hospital that night and spent hours with her in the days that followed.

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