Several Utahns breathed a sigh of relief Wednesday, realizing they had survived a brush with death.
A West Valley family was among those waiting anxiously to determine the fate of a loved one aboard the downed aircraft, while others were amazed at the circumstances that kept them off the ill-fated flight.A change in release dates and a change of flights were among factors that kept a number of LDS missionaries and at least four other Utahns off Delta Air Lines Flight 1141.
Seven of the 11 missionaries released from the Texas-Dallas Mission returned home safely to Utah. But they came home Tuesday instead of Wednesday, which until a month ago was the usual day for release from the mission.
President Douglas E. Brinley, Ogden, of the Texas-Dallas Mission, told the Deseret News that 11 missionaries from his mission were released Tuesday.
Had they been released Wednesday and had space been available on Flight 1141, it's possible some or all of the seven missionaries may have boarded the 727 jetliner.
"Normally, we send missionaries home on Wednesday, but a month ago we decided that we would move the release day up one day to a Tuesday. So this was the first group of missionaries who went home on a Tuesday," Brinley said.
Elder Todd E. Schofield, 21, one of missionaries who arrived at the Salt Lake International Airport at 5 p.m. Tuesday aboard Delta Flight 873, said in a telephone interview from his parents' Holladay home that the change was made in release and transfer days to avoid cutting up the week so much.
"But, it is humbling to realize that it could have happened to anyone" to have been on the plane that crashed, he said.
Five other Texas-Dallas missionaries who returned to Utah Tuesday aboard Flight 873 were Edward Austin, Bountiful; Richard Cluff and Brian Pulham, Orem; Ryan Reed, Logan; and Mary Ann Phelon, Pleasant Grove. The sixth missionary, Elder Marcus Ludwig, Cedar City, took an earlier flight Tuesday.
At least four other Utahns had made plans to take Flight 1141.
They included Steven T. Hoff, 26, who was released from the Texas-Dallas Mission July 13 and who on Aug. 25 returned for a visit to the mission with his sister, Jeanette Schiess, 43, and her two daughters, Jana, 18, and Jessie, 6, all of Logan. Some in Dallas originally feared Hoff and the Schiess family were on the plane.
But Schiess' son, Sandor, told the newspaper later Wednesday morning from Logan that he had received a telephone call from his mother in Dallas, informing him that they had missed one plane and were taking another flight home.
Hoff said his sister had purchased non-refundable tickets on Delta Airlines a couple of months ago. The tickets had them
ooked to return to Utah on Flight 1141, which was to be a non-stop flight to Salt Lake City. But Hoff said she decided that she wanted to save $130 round trip on each of the four tickets and opted to exchange them for United Airlines tickets.
Ironically, the family missed the later United flight because their car had a flat tire on the way to the airport.
"We were leaving our hotel (in Dallas) when news of the (jetliner) crash came over the radio. It kind of shocked us to know that we could have been on that flight," Hoff said.
Others Utahns weren't so lucky.
As a Utah man crawled through the charred wreckage of a demolished jetliner to safety, his wife sat in their West Valley home sickened with fear that her husband of 121/2 years had been killed.
Nonie Selvage believed her husband, Dennis, could not have survived the fiery crash.
"I really didn't think there was a chance he was alive with the explosion and fire," the mother of eight children, ages 3 to 19, said. "I just kept thinking, `What will I do now that he is gone?' "
The 34-year-old homemaker had the courage to relive the terrifying ordeal Wednesday afternoon only because she had received word that Dennis Selvage had escaped the inferno.
The 43-year-old AT&T executive, after being treated and released from Baylor Medical Center in Grapevine, went into seclusion Wednesday afternoon at the Airport Hilton in Dallas. A hotel operator said he had taken his phone off the hook; his messages were left stacked at the front desk.
Nonie Selvage was unsure when her husband would return to Salt Lake City. "He'll probably walk - or at least drive," she said. "He is not anxious to get on another plane."
Dennis Selvage flew to Dallas Sunday for business. That evening he reassured his wife by phone that he'd be home Wednesday morning.
"I knew he was coming back then; I just knew that was his flight," said Selvage, who learned of the crash of the Delta jetliner when she flipped on her radio just after 9 a.m.
Repeated panicked attempts to verify his flight number failed. Delta's hotline was barraged with calls.
Thirty minutes after the initial news report, medics called with word that Selvage was at least alive.
Local reporters informed Nonie Selvage of her husband's release from the Texas medical center where he had been treated for cuts and scrapes. An hour later, a shaken Dennis Selvage called his wife from his hotel room.
His description of the crash was sketchy. He told his wife that he remembers hearing a couple clicks, before the blast.
"I was right over the left wing, and there was a large fireball that had developed already and we were still moving at a lot of speed," he said.
"You could still sense we were grinding and moving, and then the final lurching of the plane as it came to a stop was probably the worst."
According to Nonie Selvage, her husband's first thought after the crash was, "Am I going to still die - be burned to death or suffocate?"
"He said he wished he had been knocked out (on impact) because he was just going to die anyway," she said.
Dennis Selvage reported that the thing that saved many of the passengers was that part of the plane remained intact. And, no one panicked. They cooperated, stayed low to avoid the smoke and moved wreckage to crawl through the plane toward the cockpit.
"I could hear people talking in almost normal voices saying to keep low, keep moving," he told his wife.
"I think about the ones that didn't make it and I feel for them and their families. I know what they're going through still. My relief is here, but they're still hurting," said Nonie Selvage.