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Starts & Stops

One man’s mission: honoring the victims of all plane crashes with lasting memorials

A memorial in Hendersonville, N.C., for Piedmont Flight 22, which crashed in 1967. A memorial in Hendersonville, N.C., for Piedmont Flight 22, which crashed in 1967. (Courtesy of The Family Alliance Foundation)
By Noah Bierman
Globe Staff / August 23, 2009

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It’s been 36 years since 89 people died after Delta Flight 723 smashed into a sea wall at Logan International Airport.

Some people may have forgotten about the crash, which originated in Burlington, Vt. and stopped in Manchester, N.H., before hitting heavy fog in Boston. But Paul Houle, who grew up in Ashburnham, has not. He has been researching plane crashes around the country, searching for those that lack memorials, on behalf of the Family Assistance Foundation, which helps crash survivors or family members of those who die.

“We want to build memorials for every single crash out there that does not have one,’’ said Houle, a volunteer who holds the position of director of disaster memorials.

Houle, of Boiling Springs, S.C., spent several years building a memorial in Hendersonville, N.C., to commemorate a 1967 mid-air collision that killed, among others, a former Navy secretary-designate.

Houle said the experience of dealing with families of the 82 people who died in that crash of a Piedmont jet and a private plane changed him.

In the 1970s, plane crashes were not routinely memorialized as they often are today, he said. That changed in 1996 with the TWA Flight 800 crash off Long Island, which inspired a federal law requiring airlines to pay for memorials if families request them. In all, Houle has identified 10 crashes without memorials.

Houle said building a memorial for Flight 723 would depend on the will of the family members of those who died; he is now trying to reach them. The memorial in Hendersonville cost about $5,000 to construct, all from donations. It is discreet, a stone with a plaque on it and an American flag on a pole.

“A lot of the family members just like to keep it simple, and this is for them,’’ he said.

Terry Dugan, 64, of Morgan Center, Vt., lost his fiancee, Phyllis Gummere, on Delta Flight 723.

“It was such a diabolical shock to me that it just changed my life totally,’’ he said. “She was beautiful and 25 years old.’’

Dugan had not heard about the memorial effort until I spoke with him on Friday. “I think it’s a wonderful idea,’’ he said. “Anything that could be done for the 89 people that died in the crash would be wonderful.’’

Logan officials did not want to comment on the potential for a memorial at the airport, which already houses a 9/11 memorial. “We haven’t received any formal request for it,’’ said Matthew Brelis, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Logan.

Houle is hoping family members will contact him at paul.houle@fafonline.org.

Referencing the past is old hat for Aloisi

Alas, we are in an era steeped in history at the MBTA, or at least historical references.

As the Globe reported last week, State Transportation Secretary James A. Aloisi Jr. compared his plight - that is, a bureaucratic feud with the general manager of the MBTA - to that of Poland in 1939, before the nation was occupied by both Hitler and Stalin - that is, the launching of World War II. Aloisi made his grand analogy in e-mails to colleagues last month, which were obtained through a public records request.

Weeks later, after he escaped his metaphorical occupation and just before the MBTA’s Daniel A. Grabauskas was deposed from his office, Aloisi switched gears. He invoked America’s great statesman and president, Thomas Jefferson, in calling for members of the MBTA board of directors to rise above heated words.

Aloisi takes his history quite seriously. In addition to a book about the Big Dig, he has penned a short biography of John Francis “Honey Fitz’’ Fitzgerald, the early 20th century mayor of Boston and father of the late Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy.

In the spirit of Aloisi, I invite readers to draw their own comparisons between transit and great historical events or characters. Tell me which bus ride through Somerville brought to mind the Exodus from Egypt. Which Blue Line subway operator reminded you of Julius Caesar. And, I prithee, tell of the commuter train to Plymouth that was populated by Pilgrim-like travelers.

Send suggestions to starts@globe.com and, if I get some good ones, I’ll put my scroll to parchment and publish them using the Globe’s printing presses. (Yes, we still have those).

Passengers hot and bothered, but T says that's rare

If you were outside last week for even five minutes, you’ve got to feel sorry for the passengers on the 88 bus from Lechmere to Somerville last Wednesday. It was full of people at about 5:15 p.m., and boiling, according to passenger Harry Pierre. All the windows were closed.

When he asked the driver, twice, whether she could turn on the air conditioning, she responded, “I’m sorry but this is an old bus and there’s nothing I can do,’’ he wrote in an e-mail.

“She said this again, shaking her head,’’ he continued.

MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said managers looked into Pierre’s complaint following a call from the Globe, and found that the air conditioner itself was not actually broken. There seems to have been an engine problem, and the driver turned off the air conditioner to preserve power and get the bus moving. Pesaturo said the driver will be instructed to call in engine problems to a dispatcher in the future.

He said that on Thursday, the T had only a single reported air conditioning problem among all its 1,053 buses.

Bus drivers are not supposed to leave a garage with a broken air conditioner. And they generally report problems, he said, because “having air conditioning is just as important to them as it is to the customers.’’