They came to Miami International Airport bearing grief and a question they were afraid to have answered.
Carrying babies and even herding dogs on a leash - their stoicism belying the chaos that suddenly had beset their lives - friends and relatives of some of the passengers aboard ValuJet Flight 592 were quickly ushered past the ticket counter Saturday afternoon by Metro-Dade police and airport personnel.
Often walking arm-in-arm, finding strength in groups of three and four, they were led up back stairs seldom seen by travelers and ushered into a third-floor auditorium on Concourse B that in times like these becomes the airport’s crisis center.
“Please, my husband was on that plane. Please, my husband was on that plane,” one woman repeated.
A ValuJet official with a passenger list from the DC-9 that crashed earlier in the afternoon waited just inside the auditorium door. Some people would go no farther.
“They told us he was on the plane,” Barbara Varcelo cried out as she and her mother spun around just inside the door. “But they haven’t told us anything.”
Barbara’s grandfather, Alberto Varcelo, 60, of Hialeah, Fla., had been flying to Atlanta.
Metro-Dade police crisis counselors and volunteers from the American Red Cross and Salvation Army awaited family members inside. They could offer coffee, soft drinks, sandwiches and cookies, phones. But little the families could really use.
At any one time, 10 or 20 people waited for any glimmer of hope they sensed would never come.
“We saw the pictures on television,” one man said. “We know there’s no hope.”
There was no television in the crisis room.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: The jet at a glance Facts about the ValuJet DC-9 that crashed Saturday: The DC-9 that crashed is a Series 30 model, one of four basic versions of the jetliner. The Series 30 went into service in February 1967. ValuJet Airlines Inc. has purchased 51 of the planes. The plane that crashed was the fourth purchased by the airline in late 1993 or early 1994. The plane was built by McDonnell Douglas at its plant in Long Beach, Calif. The DC-9s are designed to operate on short runways and on short- to medium-range routes. Distinctive features include the high-level horizontal stabilizer atop the rudder, commonly called a “T” tail, and the two Pratt & Whitney fanjet engines mounted far back on its fuselage. The plane carries a crew of two, plus cabin attendants and seats up to 115 passengers. It has an overall length of 119.3 feet and a wing span of 93.4 feet. - Associated Press