The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

March 29, 2014

Montoursville mayor feels for relatives of Flight 370 passengers

MONTOURSVILLE — Not a day goes by that Montoursville Mayor John Dorin doesn’t think about TWA Flight 800 and the local high school students and chaperones lost when the plane exploded over the Atlantic Ocean just after takeoff in 1996.

So it didn’t conjure memories for Dorin when Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared March 8, seemingly without a trace. But it did stoke his empathy, he said, and deep feeling for what the families of those on board are enduring.

“I could relate. My sympathy goes out to all the families from (those on) that Malaysian flight,” said Dorin, in his 32nd year as  mayor. “When I see them (the families and officials) asking for help, their anguish, the communications with them, especially in the beginning when they didn’t know much. … what those families are thinking, it’s just a personal feeling of ‘I’m sorry.’”

Any catastrophe — be it a plane crash or even a school shooting — “You sort of relate it to what happened here in Montoursville,” Dorin said. “You think of the Malaysians and these circumstances, though, and you don’t know if they’ll be able to find anything.”

Based on his own experience, Dorin said he believes officials are being up front with the Malaysia flight families.

“I think, personally, they probably do not know what happened,” he said.

Dorin said his dealings with U.S. agencies, such as the Federal Aviation Administration, were very good. FAA officials came to Montoursville to meet with families and officials.

“As bodies were being pulled from the ocean, each one had a report and I got one. That’s how closely we worked with them,” Dorin said. “We had a good relationship with the authorities. They didn’t keep anything from us, as I recall. We were right on board.”

Even President Bill Clinton and his chief of staff, Leon Panetta, called Dorin when the crash occurred and all throughout the investigation, he said, keeping him apprised.

“The first two or three days when there wasn’t much information available, you didn’t understand” what was happening, Dorin said. Plus it was the first time Dorin heard terrorism as a possible cause, a foreign concept in 1996.

“When I talked to the president, he indicated terrorism but said they weren’t sure,” Dorin said, adding he had about three conversations with Clinton. “He assured me they were going to do everything possible to find out what happened. I can relate to those kinds of things” as the Malaysia Airlines families go through them.

At the barber shop he frequents, Dorin said the conversation naturally has turned to the Malaysia Airlines flight.

“In barber shop, someone had asked, because they remember too, what do I think? Was it a terrorism attack? Did someone take the plane down?” he said. “The older people in town, it’s in the back of their minds. You’ll never forget it. (Flight 800) is always in the back of my mind.”

This July 17 marks 18 years since TWA Flight 800 left New York for Paris, and crashed just minutes after takeoff from John F. Kennedy Airport, killing all 230 people aboard, including 16 students and five chaperones traveling to Europe from Montoursville Area High School.

The National Transportation Safety Board concluded a center fuel tank explosion caused the crash, likely caused by a spark from a short-circuit in wiring. But in June 2013, former investigators began a push to reopen the crash investigation, claiming new evidence points to the often-discounted theory that a missile strike may have downed the jumbo jet.

Some Montoursville residents also suspect the federal government wasn’t telling the truth about what happened to Flight 800.

But as far as the borough goes, “You don’t hear much conversation about it anymore,” Dorin said. “Myself, I find I think about it all the time. There is not a time when you don’t think about it, when you don’t related to other tragedies like Columbine and Sandy Hook. We lost 16 students and five chaperones. That’s always a reminder to me.”

 

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