A flight attendant who survived United Flight 232's fiery crash says she looked out and saw an Iowa field and parts of the jetliner "slowly coming apart."
When the DC-10's tail section where she was seated came to rest, Donna McGrady said she and another flight attendant helped people out of the wreckage and then realized the severity of the crash."At that particular time, to come out and to look and to see nothing but debris . . . ," she said, her voice breaking. "I said, `Oh, God, where is the other part of the aircraft?' "
McGrady and four other United Airlines flight attendants who survived the crash joined three others who helped on the ground at a news conference sponsored by their union, the Association of Flight Attendants.
Seven of the eight working attendants aboard the DC-10 were among the 185 survivors. Rene LeBeau, 23, of Schaumburg, was one of the 111 who died in the July 19 crash landing near Sioux City, Iowa.
Many of the dozens of United employees who attended the news conference dabbed at tears while McGrady described her joy at seeing survivors emerge from the wreckage.
"I said, `Thank you, Jesus, for the things that you've done for us because we know there's no other way we could have made it without your presence,' " she said.
"It was so good to see them," said flight attendant Becky Larson, who was not aboard the plane but helped survivors at the crash scene.
"We just hugged them and loved them and kissed them and we were so happy to see them," Larson said.
Janice Brown, head flight attendant on Flight 232, said she cannot think of anything the flight attendants could have done to save more people and could not explain how some survived while others did not.
"I'm not going to second-guess God," Brown said.
Flight attendant Timothy Owens of Baltimore, who was seated in the middle of the plane, said "the tail section of the plane just split apart and I saw a big beam of sunlight just coming through the big opening in the back. And that's when we started to roll over on the right wing."
"I had my eyes open all the time," said McGrady, of Detroit. "When we hit, I saw nothing but grass. I looked around and I saw parts of the aircraft that were slowly coming apart."
The flight attendants did not know at first that LeBeau had been killed, McGrady said, although they automatically looked for each other.
After the news conference, Chicago-based United held a private memorial service in the same room for LeBeau and four non-working United employees who died in the crash. An airline spokesman said more than 380 people attended.
One of the flight attendants who couldn't make it to the news conference said from her hospital bed Friday that she wants to fly again despite suffering fractured vertebrae.
Barbara Gillaspie, speaking from Boone Hospital Center in Columbia, Mo., said she will wait for her doctors to say when she could return to the skies.
She said she did not remember much about the crash other than being discovered in the cornfield by a rescuer.
"He was as excited as I was," Gillaspie said. "He said he had not found anything but dead people and I was the first person he found alive."
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