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Sugar Cookies and a Nightmare

How My Daughter's Death Taught Me
The Meaning of Life


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News articles began to report that TransNational Airlines had been under criminal investigation at least two years previously for falsifying maintenance records on MD-80s, the model of jet that had crashed during Flight 398.

Then it came out that many years earlier, armed FBI agents had seized maintenance logs from the same TransNational Airlines hangar that housed the very plane Ricky had taken on Flight 398. Katie was further horrified to read that during the last 30 minutes of the flight, despite the pilots' hope of making an emergency landing at Los Angeles International Airport, recordings from the cockpit disclosed that "the crew commented to each other about the pressure placed on them by the company to continue to SFO [San Francisco International Airport]."

With each new revelation, Katie and the other passengers' families not only had to relive all over again the torture of picturing their loved ones soaring downward to death; they also had to face the possibility that internal politics had been a deciding factor as much as mechanical failure.

An Authorized Memorial

Meanwhile, TransNational Airlines announced that on the first-year anniversary of the crash, the company would host an authorized memorial for family members at the same beach near Santa Maria where Katie and her parents had first met with company officials. Katie dreaded the idea, having intended her ceremony near the Golden Gate Bridge to be the end of any public mourning for Ricky. Then she tried looking at the anniversary event as a turning point. "If Crissy Field was a trial run, maybe I'll be ready for the big one," she said. We sat there for a moment, wondering. "Okay, I take it back," she laughed. "This may be a circus, but I think I should go anyway." TransNational promised to pay hotel and airplane expenses for hundreds of surviving family members — and their family members — so Katie knew it was going to be a huge affair. Reporters and TV news crews would attend, along with strangers who had already called Katie to say they wanted to "bond," plus the usual number of kooks and opportunists with their own agendas to serve. "If they sell T-shirts, I'm leaving," Katie joked weakly.

The kooks were already showing themselves, it seemed. A plausible-sounding "news" report circulated about a pastor's wife who could be heard on the cockpit recorder "sharing the Gospel with the passengers over the plane's intercom system" during the last nine minutes of Flight 398. Considering the damage to the plane by loss of the jackscrew, nine minutes was an awfully long time. "There is no other explanation for how the plane was able to stay in the air that long," one e-mail stated, except that God must have kept the plane flying long enough for the passengers to become "very attentive" to the pastor's wife and "get right with their Maker just prior to meeting Him."

This "eRumor" was disproved by TruthOrFiction.com and other Internet fact-finding sources. But it reflected the efforts of a growing number of people to exploit the vulnerability of survivors like Katie, and these were people who would want to attend the anniversary memorial in Santa Maria. TransNational Airlines would surely provide security to protect the privacy of bona fide friends and family, Katie knew. But the thought of joining a horde of people and reporters or meeting one grief-stricken person after another at the hotel event for "Friends of Flight 398" set up by TransNational Airlines made the whole thing increasingly upsetting.

Only when Katie decided to bring her parents and stay in a different hotel — still on the waterfront but down the beach from the ceremony — did she find a way to think positively about the TransNational Airlines memorial again.

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