It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years since the crash of Flight 3407. As a reporter covering it, there are things I will never forget.
The eerily quiet Clarence Center Neighborhood. The somber look on the face of every first-responder on scene. The smell of airplane fuel. It was like a movie scene. I was so lucky at the end of the day to go home to my family.
I couldn’t stop thinking about those who couldn’t. Those who lost a loved one that night. On that plane. In that eerily quiet neighborhood. So many wonderful people died that night. February 12, 2009 – 10:17 p.m. Surely one of the darkest hours of Western New York history.
But, what happened in the days, weeks, months, and years following the crash is what is truly inspiring. Families of the accident victims lobbied the U.S. Congress to enact tougher regulations for airlines. They worked tirelessly – traveling back and forth to Washington, meeting with lawmakers, the NTSB, the FAA, even the President of the United States. They were relentless. Dressed in red to honor those lost – vowing to never stop fighting for those lost. They kept fighting – until they convinced Congress to get the largest aviation safety bill in 50 years – passed into law. They did it. They won.
Can you even imagine? Those voices – so loud. So proud. So determined. They did it. I remember every time the story would come up – they were back in Washington or something was happening – everyone in the newsroom would just say the same thing, “Those people are amazing.” They were. They are. Everything they’d lost and there they were – fighting for the rest of us. So we don’t ever have to experience that heartache. Heartbreak.
One of those who fought and fights is Robin Tolma. Robin lost her husband, Darren in the crash. She struggled – as we can only imagine. I can’t help but wonder where she gets her strength from. She told me in a previous interview that she needed to move on, “I believe that each step I take also helps others who are experiencing a loss. I feel that, although I have a hole in my heart, I try and fill it with precious memories.”
Robin is a motivational speaker – specializing in overcoming grief. She is also author of “Everything Changed”. It’s the story of how she turned her personal tragedy into a public triumph. Robin tells me writing the book was a form of therapy, “Writing the book helped me immensely. It’s odd to go back and read it, at times it still feels like someone else’s story, not mine.”
Robin – who admits that grief never goes away – says you have to find your path in forging ahead. Her advice to others living with tragic loss – don’t be self-destructive, care about yourself – don’t live to exist, exist to live and perhaps most importantly, embrace the wonderful memories, “Grief never goes away and it shouldn’t. Your life is forever changed and you need to move forward differently. It’s how one handles the change that defines their grief. That hole in your heart will always be there. It’s like a stone in your shoe; sometimes you feel it and it’s painful and sometimes you feel it and it’s not but you always are aware it’s there. Because you can’t fix the hole in your heart, you fill it with precious memories. After all, your loved one is only as far away as your fondest memory.”
Even in great loss, this Lancaster mom continues to help others. Even after a tragedy most of us could never even imagine, this woman continues to show immense grace and courage.
To Robin and all of those incredible people who lost loved ones in the crash of Flight 3407 – thank you. Thank you for working tirelessly so that we can be safer in the air. What you’ve done is incredible and we will all reap the benefits of your hard work.
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