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Families Gather For 40th Anniversary Of Everglades Plane Crash

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Saturday marked the 40th anniversary of the crash of Eastern Airlines Flight 401.

Survivors and relatives of the victims gathered for a memorial ceremony along Tamiami Trail at the site of another plane crash.

“Forty years is like yesterday for us,” Beverly Raposa said.

Raposa was a flight attendant on board the flight that crashed in to the Everglades on a dark December night. She recalled her actions that evening in the swamp where she encouraged passengers to sing Christmas carols until help arrived.

“We are there to get them out, to get them to safety. That was our primary responsibility,” Raposa said. “All of us that survived, I feel like we did the very best that we could to do just that.”

Raposa still flies often. So does Ron Infantino. The aviation buff was on that ill-fated flight on December 29, 1972. They are two of the 75 people who survived.

“I was trying not to drown,” Infantino said. He said he spent five hours in the murky water after the plane went down.

His wife of 20 days at the time, Fara, did not survive.

“We were starting our lives together. Both 26 years of age. Looking forward to it,” Infantino said. “Never thinking something tragic like this would ever happen. You never do, do you?”

Fara Infantino was one of 101 people who died when the plane went down because the autopilot had accidentally been switched off. The plane descended rapidly, and it was too late before the pilot noticed.

Jacki Repo McGrath’s father was the 2nd Officer on the flight.

“Absolutely loved flying. It was his life.” McGrath said of her father Don Repo. “He always said he’d probably die on the Palmetto Expressway before dying on an airplane.”

McGrath brought her children and grandchildren to the 40th anniversary to honor their “PopPop”.

But the victims of Flight 401 don’t have their own memorial.

Instead, they marked the occasion along Tamiami Trail at the memorial for Valujet Flight 592. That crash happened just two miles away more than two decades later.

Infantino and Raposa are hoping a memorial for Flight 401 will be erected in time for the 41st Anniversary. The plan is to install a marble slab with each of the victims’ names at the Curtiss Mansion in Miami Springs. They need to raise between $15,000 and $20,000 to make that happen.

The Coast Guard paid tribute by circling over the small ceremony Saturday.

It was emotional moment for survivors united in their grief and their hope for the future of aviation.

“This was an accident,” Infantino said. “But I know this kind of accident will never happen again, and that’s a fact.”

Infantino said new pilots study Flight 401 as a lesson in Crew Resource Management. He said standard operating procedures changed as a result of the crash. He hopes that’s a legacy no one will ever forget.

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