Karen Wielinski opens up about her journey – from the night flight 3407 crashed into her home – to today.
Sitting across from her smiling face, it’s nearly impossible to know of the heartache and tragedy that Karen’s Wielinski has endured. She is lovely and kind, but truthfully, I wouldn’t blame her if she was bitter and angry – even all these years later.
We all know Karen’s story. Or we think we know it, anyway. But, the truth is, we’ve only heard bits and pieces over the years. Now, she is sharing her story – her entire story – with all of us in an incredible, riveting book. Karen says much of the coverage of the accident focused on the passengers of flight 3407, she wanted to tell her husband’s story; the one person who was on the ground, “When disasters happen, they’ll focus on certain people. You never really hear follow up stories about those people. So this really tells people what happened to the family. My family.”
So she spent years writing, “One on the Ground. The Story of One Family Before, During, and After Continental Flight 3407 Crashed Into Their Home.”
There’s no doubt – from page one through the ending – you realize that Karen has transformed from victim to survivor. At times, the book is difficult to read; it’s heartbreaking, unimaginable. It’s also inspiring, empowering. It truly is a love story.
Karen has spent the past nine years coming to grips – but, she admits once the calendar flips to a new year, she is filled with dread. The anniversary of the crash is excruciating.
You can sense that in the book. Karen is open and honest in her descriptions.
In an instant Karen Wielinski’s life was changed forever as Continental Flight 3407 fell out of the sky and smashed into her home on Long Street in Clarence Center.
It was, by all accounts, a normal day. Up until the crash, nothing really stands out from Feb. 12, 2009 for Karen, who was home with her husband, Doug, and daughter Jill. Jill was upstairs. Doug had just left the living room.
Karen, who was watching television, heard a weird noise. It wasn’t like all the other planes that fly overhead. It was growing louder. And suddenly, there was a horrific sound.
The airplane was on her home. In her home. Miraculously, Karen was still sitting on the couch – unscathed. She saw a small opening and managed to climb out. She knew she had to get out.
That’s when she heard the sound of a woman crying and hoped it was Jill. She pulled herself out and found herself facing the driveway looking at the cars and then turned and saw the house. Karen, even now, can’t understand why she didn’t just lose it at that moment. She assumes her maternal instincts kicked in; nothing was more important than protecting Jill at that moment. She was right there, so close. Together they ran away.
There was no sign of Doug.
Doug was killed in the crash. So was the family cat. Their house, their home, was completely destroyed.
Think about all of the memories your house holds. All of those memories that come with raising a family. Karen and Doug and their girls, Kim, Lori, Jessica and Jill had spent countless hours there – making memories.
Their home was destroyed.
Everyone on that flight was killed.
All of those folks flying from Newark to Buffalo that evening in the icy weather – were gone. Dozens of lives destroyed.
It’s hard for that to soak in; impossible to grasp.
For weeks, Karen tried to stay focused. She held a memorial and funeral for Doug. She was heartbroken. Her husband was gone.
Karen knew she had to move on. Go on. She joined a writing group, bought a new home in East Aurora. She tried to move on, while at the same time, staying in touch with 3407 families, going through boxes of items saved from her home, and working in an effort to make airline travel safer.
The book is raw. And real. It touches on everything from the night of the accident and days following, to things like the trial, insurance claims, lawsuits, and sorting through the salvaged items – which was no easy task for Karen. In fact, at times it was gut wrenching. But, in going through those boxes, those memories, Karen was able to find things that mean the world to her, including a Valentine’s Day card from Doug. Also in that rubble, Doug’s University at Buffalo class ring – which I noticed Karen was wearing. I asked her about it. She told me it brings her strength.
The book also talks about how she and Doug met, their life together, his love for collecting, running, and family.
This book is sad, it’s tragic, it’s emotional. But it is also hopeful. For Karen, it was important to have everything out there, “Oh yeah. It’s all in one place, one book. I think it’s great to have the whole story in one book. I will still talk to people about it and I say if you want more information on that, it’s in this chapter.”
It turns out writing is cathartic for Karen and putting pen to paper helped her to heal. She hopes it helps others, too, “I’m hoping people who have gone through a tragedy will find comfort in this book.” But, it’s more than that, “I wanted to tell Doug’s story,” Karen said, “I wanted people to know that he wasn’t just the person on the ground. He was a husband and father. It seemed he was always an afterthought, so I wanted to tell his story.”
Karen still writes with her group and spends as much time as possible with her children and grandchildren. She tries everyday to move forward and live a happy life.
Sitting across from her in an East Aurora coffee shop, two hours later, I felt more inspired by her story than ever. The love she holds for her husband, her family, her community, and her writing speaks volumes about Karen Wielinski. She is a survivor we can all look up to.
Information on the Book and Scholarship Fund
The Book: “One on the Ground: The Story of One Family Before, During and After Continental Flight 3407 Crashed into their Home”
Author: Karen Wielinski
The Douglas C. Wielinski Memorial Scholarship Fund has been set up to provide assistance to students who have a genuine love for history as Doug did.
Donations to: P.O. Box 241, East Aurora, New York
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