May 25, 1979 was the Friday before Memorial Day weekend. For me, it was the first paid holiday of my working life as I had begun my career in advertising just six weeks earlier (at New York ad agency Scali McCabe Sloves). I was going out to Hicksville on Long Island to spend the holiday weekend with a friend. As I was on my way to Penn Station after leaving the office, I saw the headlines of the New York Post and Daily News reporting a plane crash in Chicago a few hours earlier. American Airlines Flight 191 crashed less than a minute after take-off from O'Hare Airport. All 279 on board were killed, making it the deadliest air crash in U.S. aviation history.
What made this disaster even more chilling was the fact that there were photos of the plane as it crashed and exploded. This was less than a year after another deadly plane crash was photographed, the mid-air collision between a Southwest Pacific passenger jet and a private plane over the skies of San Diego on September 25, 1978 (pictured, left). And in later years there were a number of crashes captured on video, e.g. the crash landing in July 1989 of United Flight 231 in Sioux City, Iowa, and the deliberate crashing of United Flight 175 into the south tower of the World Trade Center on 9-11, an event witnessed by millions on live TV.
Another tragedy occurred on May 25, 1979. That morning, 6-year old Etan Patz vanished while walking to school alone in Manhattan's SoHo neighborhood. He was never seen again and his disappearance hung heavily on New Yorkers for the rest of the year. But last year, as the 33rd anniversary of this unsolved case approached there were indications that a resolution might finally be at hand.