American Samoa Flag Day
I would love to say that Flag Day in American Samoa conjures up wonderful memories, but I would be lying. In 1980 I experienced one of the scariest moments of my life while living there.
It was a beautiful April morning on Tutuila Island, and my husband and I had made plans to meet at The Rainmaker Hotel (250 room). Then we would walk to the mala’e (grassy field) where ceremonies were to be held and bands would be playing in celebration. It was announced on television that parachutes would be dropped from a naval plane and soldiers would land on the field close to the Pago Pago Harbor.
As planned, I picked up my husband who stood at the entranceway of The Rainmaker Hotel. We parked our car a few minutes away before starting our hike to the field. There was a cableway that stretched across the Pago Pago Harbor (a kilometer and a half). It was known to be one of the longest single-span aerial tramways in the world. It was built to transport television technicians to the transmitters atop of Mt. Alava.
We were talking and laughing and along our way I looked up to see the naval plane on our right. It was too low. I said “it is going to crash!” No sooner had I said that, than the tail of the plane snagged the cable that spanned the harbor. The cable tore the tail off the ill-fated plane. It then careened upward and veered right before landing less than a mile away - right in the exact place where I had picked up my husband just moments before. The crash was thunderous and created a fireball at the scene. The hotel wing closest to the accident became engulfed in flames.
We gasped in horror when we realized it was not a movie, but a real life tragedy that we had just witnessed. I realized that if I had been only a few moments late in picking up my husband, he may not be alive at that moment. People were running everywhere and screaming. The only way home was on the road past the hotel. The plane had landed very near the main road. I worried about my children and wondered how long it would be until we could get to them.
Later we found out that all six crewmen on the plane had died. A seventh victim had been a tourist at the hotel. A civilian had been badly burned. It was a day that I will never forget. Here is a memorial to the fallen which is found at a monument on Solo Hill:
Hearing that there was a gasoline storage facility near the crash site, it was rumored that there would be a huge explosion if the fire reached it. My husband and I caught a bus and traveled to the furthest point we could away from the crash site.
I couldn’t help crying over the young soldiers that had lost their lives due to their misfortune. Once it was announced that we could return home several hours later, we picked up our car, drove past the scene where there were firemen, police and we could see the damage inflicted on the hotel. The plane had done a nose dive into the front lawn of the hotel. Rubberneckers were making it a difficult drive. We stopped for a second and I saw some pieces of the plane that had been scattered by the way. I picked one of them up as we continued on our journey home. True to superstition, my husband became violently ill when we got home. Perhaps it was psychosomatic, but not unlike picking up a lava rock from the volcano area in Hawaii, I no longer wanted to keep the piece of metal, and returned it to the crash site.
Dedicated to Leone High School 1980 where my husband taught
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