A bond forged in aviation tragedy

SHEDDEN – Ken Howe and David Cooper Jr. have a connection rooted in tragedy.

Cooper’s father David was captain of American Airlines Flight 1 AM-7, the Flagship Erie, that crashed Oct. 30, 1941, on a farm field in Lawrence Station near Shedden where Howe lived.

Seventeen passengers and three crew members died in the crash, making it the worst aviation disaster in Canadian history at the time- writes lfpress.com.

Howe and Cooper, who first met nearly 30 years ago, were reunited Sunday when a memorial plaque for crash victims was unveiled.

Twenty-six relatives of those who died in the crash were among the more than 100 people who attended the ceremony at the crash site.

“The memorial is really an honour for the families of the survivors and it’s an indication of the strength of the Canadian-American friendship,” Cooper said. “My father would be very proud to know that his last efforts are being memorialized in such an honoured way.”

Cooper said his mother never talked about his father after he died, but Cooper remains connected to the man who gave him life.

“Our father exists for us mainly in the written record.”

Cooper was two when his father died. Howe, who was five, was sleeping upstairs in his family home with his sister and brother on the night of Oct. 30, 1941.

His mother Viola and father Thompson were awake when the airplane made its final descent, Howe said.

His mother heard the airplane before she saw it, Howe remembers her telling him.

“Mom saw the plane coming towards the window,” Howe said. “She ran out the back door and the ground was illuminated with lights.”

The American Airlines plane was making its regular flight from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to Chicago with stops in Newark, Buffalo, Detroit and South Bend, Ind., when it crashed.

An investigation failed to determine the cause, but the crash did lead to the installation of flight data recorders in planes.

Howe and Cooper first met nearly three decades ago when Cooper came to Howe’s house in Shedden. They’ve maintained a friendship, exchanging Christmas cards and phone calls, ever since.

Ray Lunn of the Southwold SS12 school committee, who grew up with Howe, started working on getting a memorial at the site three years ago.

The Southwold Township history committee and others also helped.

Cooper credits Robert Schweyer, who wrote a book called Final Descent: Loss of the Flagship Erie, for keeping the memories of those killed in the crash at the forefront.

Howe said the memorial gives a sense of closure after 77 years.

“It’s closure for the families who lost loved ones and for our community,” he said. “My mom and dad, they’re watching over us, it’s closure for them, too.”

Cooper hopes the memorial helps relieve the pain felt by the families of those who died in the crash.

“It existed, of course, all these 77 years, in the memories of all the people here,” Cooper said. “We’re glad that, to some extent, that those painful memories can be put to rest.”

Read more news of London on our site.

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