Six years ago I wrote a piece on an atrocity that occurred in our hemisphere on October 6th of 1976.
Cubana Airlines flight 455 exploded in midair and fell to the ocean floor taking all 73 of its passengers down with it. 11 Guyanese students were on board, 5 Koreans, 57 Cubans of which 24 were the members of the Cuban National Fencing Team on their way back from the Central American regional Games of that year.
As I was writing my tale I was thinking of the passengers on board and how the men responsible for these heinous acts are still at large. What I didn't think about six years ago was that this terrorist act had witnesses.
Two of them contacted me after reading my piece.
The 6th of this month marks the 40th Anniversary of the first terrorist act against a civilian aircraft in our hemisphere.
It should never be forgotten.
The flight originated from Georgetown, Guyana. After a brief layover in Barbados the flight took off for Kingston from Seawell airport in Bridgetown. At 18,000 feet and only 9 minutes into flight the first of the two bombs, C4, exploded on board.
A young mother and daughter witnessed it all.
The following is their story:
"I was only 25 years old in October, 1976. My daughter, Eileen, almost 6, and her father and I boarded the CUNARD Princess in La Guaira, Venezuela, for a 7-day cruise. Our 2nd port-of-call was Barbados, with the most beautiful crystalline turquoise waters I've ever seen. We only had one day to enjoy the island so we hailed a local driver, Rudy, who claimed he knew just the spot. He took us to a private beach, which he claimed was right in front of "Sting's vacation home". It was breathtaking and a floating wooden platform beckoned to us about 50 yards off the shore. We swam out with little Eileen and marveled at the beauty of our surroundings. It was a glorious day! We sunned and frolicked until a silver glint in the sky drew our attention skyward where we observed a plane whose wings began tipping strangely perpendicularly to the horizon until its wings were vertical to each other and descending towards the sea instead of climbing into the sky. Down Et down it slid to our horror. I kept thinking, any second the plane will level out. Eileen said, "Mommy, that plane's going to crash!" In utter disbelief, we observed the plane plunge into the ocean. I still remember the shock I felt in that moment and only later did we learn we had witnessed a terrorist act right in front of our eyes! I haunts me to this day. "
" When I think of my childhood, I feel an abundance of joy; there are so many memories that cascade over me and make me feel like I was worthy, cared for and loved. There are the smells of food, the sound of sweet milk whipping in a small tin pan, over the stove, the sound and beat of merengue, as I learned how to count the steps and sway just right, the cousins, the laughter, games, movies, and all the things that burn into the memory and cause nostalgia. Then there is the terrible memory.
My parents and another couple, and me, where out on a platform raft on the on the ocean in Barbados. It was a regular vacation day, and I was almost 6. I truly think I would not have remembered more than a memory or two of this cruise vacation of the Caribbean. Maybe a showgirl's purple feather, maybe my mom's yellow dress at dinner, and maybe I would have remembered the island local holding a puffer fish while my mom took a picture. Out on that raft I was bored. The adults were talking, probably drinking, and I was just looking up, trying to find something interesting to stare at. I saw a plane. I stared at it and I remember knowing, just knowing that I needed to keep my eyes on it. The plane was slightly turning, nothing was amiss, yet I knew something bad was going to happen. I turned to my father's friend and I said, "Look, that plane is going to fall." I poked him and said it again, "Look that plane is going to fall." He was looking at it and he simply said, "No, it's just turning." I remember feeling upset that no one believed me. I kept my eyes on the plane, and as smoke began trailing out, everyone was silent. I wasn't old enough to wonder what was going wrong... Was something going wrong?
The airplane exploded. The airplane crashed into the ocean, so close to us that I felt heat on my face. I have vivid memories of orange fire, black smoke, taking up the whole scenery. I don't remember leaving the beach, I don't remember anyone talking. Inside my head, I was shocked and I was not able process what exactly was the meaning of what happened. I certainly was not thinking about people losing their lives, and dreams going up in that smoke. That came decades later.
I probably never thought about that crash again for at least 20 years. These days my thoughts turn to those students, those fiercely loved individuals, and the people who had to bear the pain of no goodbye, of never seeing someone again. I have cried and cried so many times, trying to make sense of evil. I don't understand and I will never understand it all. I now know enough to understand that not just people, but governments too can be monsters.
I won't mention the names of those who murdered. They are not worth it
Today, I hope that something worth living for came out of every fork in the road, for those who suffered the loss of family and future all at once. There is so much sadness when thinking of the missing mom or dad, a brother or sister, husband, wife, classmate, cousin or old or new friend. I daydream about the void where those good memories where supposed to go, but the good memories, they never had a chance to happen. I can't make sense of a loss like this, but I do believe in goodness. I pray that in each person that cries and has a missing piece of them, there is something to go in its place. An anger that has quieted and turned to activism for others, a deeper love and understanding of life, or an indomitable will that cannot be broken, right or wrong. I hope that someone found courage and that someone else picked up discipline and righteousness. I hope that new friends have been made and babies have been born.
I did not lose anyone that day, but I was there, so I am a witness for all the families. I was there, and they are with me. "