Ep. 11: Let Me Know if You Need to Scream: Sabena Flight 548
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all who celebrate! Honor the day and Shannon's Aunt Fran by listening to Emma scream as Shannon tells her the devastating story of Sabena Flight 548 and the 1961 U.S. Figure Skating Team. Stay till the end for a surprise for Emma!
Speaker A: Hello. Hi, I'm Shannon. I'm Emma. Welcome to this podcast. Doesn't exist the most the most calm, cozy Woot. Like you should be cloaked in a.
Speaker C: Fuzzy blanket and watching the snow fall.
Speaker A: From a cabin window.
Speaker C: Oh, I sincerely hope that it actually snows on Christmas. Yeah, sorry.
Speaker A: I was like, I don't because I have work the next day, but I don't. We decided to close, so I actually don't have work at all this week. Yay, that's kind of exciting. Well, yeah, maybe, but Merry Christmas, everybody. Merry Christmas. Happy Christmas to everyone who celebrates. We hope you're staying safe and celebrating.
Speaker C: And connecting with loved ones as best you can.
Speaker A: We know this year Christmas probably doesn't look the way that it usually does, but we hope you're enjoying it nonetheless. Yeah.
Speaker C: So Ralph's parents every um year for the past 35 years have had a Christmas caroling party. And of course, this year it was canceled. Um and so his eldest brother decided, let's try and figure out a way to get as many people on Zoom that we can so that they can watch the tree lighting because they light the candles on the Christmas tree very safely.
Speaker A: Always the fire extinguisher. My father in law likes to say.
Speaker C: If people are standing around to make.
Speaker A: Sure that their firewall is up, uh he's a computer programmer, apparently.
Speaker C: That's funny. But uh in any case, Chris pulled it off, and we had a lot of people on the Zoom, and they all got to see the tree lighting.
Speaker A: Was everyone on mute?
Speaker C: For the most part. Okay, uh good.
Speaker A: People trying to sing together on. No, there was no singing. Literally uh my work.
Speaker C: It was actually very sweet because every year when they liked the tree, they read the piece of scripture that is the description of uh Jesus being born and the whole scene, the whole Nativity scene. And usually it's read by Ralph's um younger sister.
Speaker A: But this year it was read by our niece, and it made me cry. Of course it is.
Speaker C: But it was very cute because your.
Speaker A: Dad had to turn off the video on Zoom so that she would actually read it because she didn't want to read it in front of everybody.
Speaker C: And she mumbled the first few sentences, and then she got more confident, and.
Speaker A: It was so sweet.
Speaker C: She did really good. And it made me cry.
Speaker A: I was sobbing. Ralph was like, are you okay?
Speaker B: I was like, no, she's so good.
Speaker A: That's very sweet. We hope that you're having those kinds of wonderful, lovely activities or that you're listening to this perhaps a few days after Christmas, because you have been in a sugar uh cookie coma all day today. Yes. Who knows? All right, so next up, just to.
Speaker C: Kind of preface this episode, I'm going.
Speaker A: To have us read some uh text messages that were exchanged in the past couple of days between Emma and I. If that works with you, Emma, I'm good. I'm ready. Okay. I was told to open the phone. Yes, I prepare my actors as best I can. All right. And go. Oh, okay. So I sent Shannon. Is your episode Christmas related?
Speaker C: I'm trying to see if I want to make my New Year's related, because my next episode will come out next.
Speaker A: Friday, which is New Year's. Not specifically, but it's winter adjacent. Okay. Then I may do another disappearance. Thumbs up, emoji. Surprise, surprise. Mine is a bit of a bummer with an uplifting ending, though. You want me to continue? Yeah, I said, well, it's okay. That's kind of our brand. And then that's. Thank you, AMA. You're welcome. Thank you for Masterpiece Theater.
Speaker C: The rest of it is gifts.
Speaker A: My notes say obligatory, put it on the Merch mention. But then that would be kind of confusing if our Merch said, that's kind of our brand. How meta.
Speaker C: I really like that.
Speaker A: Well, can someone start a document of.
Speaker C: All the times we say, Put it on the Merch?
Speaker A: Hey, Ralph. Ralph, can you add it to your spreadsheet, please?
Speaker B: Thank you.
Speaker A: Ralph is very good with his data, regardless of the fact that he's actually.
Speaker C: A farmer multifaceted here.
Speaker A: Really? I mean, his crops are on a grid, and so are his numbers.
Speaker C: I mean, I'm going to need you to leave.
Speaker B: I'm so proud of that.
Speaker A: Get out. Okay, but don't. That would be really weird talking to myself for 45 minutes, which we don't have to get into that. Okay, but anyway, it's Christmas or shortly after Christmas, if you're listening to this later. But as you know, typically I travel up to New Jersey to spend Christmas with my dad's side of the family, and there's lots of them. Shout out to any of you all who are listening. This year, obviously, was not planning to travel because of Cobid, um but unfortunately, there was a death in our family earlier this week or last week at the time of recording. And um so we are taking the trip up at this point. When you hear this, we'll already be home, but everyone is wearing masks. We're keeping distance. And I'm getting a test when I get home. Christmas Eve covid test. But the point of all that to say is that I want to tell you that I chose today's topic as a small way, sort of uh to honor my Aunt Fran, who passed. And first of all, just on the top of Christmas, my friend was a photographer. So many photo albums in her house. Every family event, even um people who are not in our family, know that she is a photographer. And I um just remember when I was a kid, she had this series of very clever Christmas cards where, first of all, she always had this beautiful tree decorated in her front window. And I remember there was one year the photo was just of the tree in her living room, and the caption was like, Where's Fran? And then the next year, it was like I'm back or something. I don't remember the exact details, but it was just very clever and cute and fun. But one thing that stands out in my memory distinctly. Again, no context. So family. Please tell me what I'm missing. But she has this Christmas wreath that has a pair of white ice skates on it. And she just loves that wreath, I believe, because she had an interest in figure skating. So today I'm talking about a topic that's figure skating related and therefore winter adjacent, as promised. Okay, we got there. So the topic of today's flight is Sabina Flight 548. There's a lot of sources that are in the show notes. I was telling uh Emma before we started recording that I was getting kind of lost in the sources because I was so interested in all of the details. I've tried to slim it down for you all, so hopefully you'll get it. If you're interested, the sources are there for you to dive into. From what I can tell, though, there's only one podcast episode, at least on Apple podcasts. That's about this topic, which I found interesting. I started listening, but then I didn't want it to sway my own delivery of the facts and stuff, so I stopped. I'm going to finish listening to it. But it's a podcast called All Bad Things.
Speaker B: Oh, my gosh.
Speaker A: They should be friends. Truly. Their intro is very hilarious and very on Brand. Uh we're in a similar Lane.
Speaker C: Oh, great.
Speaker A: I'm so excited.
Speaker C: New potential friends have no clue about who we are.
Speaker A: No. Maybe we'll send them an episode or a DM or something. I don't know. We'll figure it out. All right. But now, Emma, we're going to go back in time, and the year is 1961. Not that far away. All right. Just to give you um some to remind you some things that happened. Okay. President Dwight D. Eisenhower has severed diplomatic relations with Cuba. The Portland spy ring, which is of Soviet origin, is discovered in London. Jfk is sworn in as the 35th President of the United States. Disney's 101 Dalmatians is released in theaters.
Speaker B: Oh, I love that.
Speaker A: The Beatles perform for the first time at the Cavern Club. And all of this is just in January and early February.
Speaker UNK: Jeez.
Speaker A: Yes. Wikipedia is wild. They give you so many things. Big. Shout out to Wikipedia for this. I cite them three different times in my notes. Uh donate to them if you can. Yes, because they're very helpful. So January 25 through 29th 61. The US Figure Skating Championships are held in Colorado Springs, and the results of this Championship will determine who makes the US team to travel to the 1961 World Championships. Okay, so it's like the preevent. This was also the first time in history that the event was televised, which is pretty cool. We have some videos coming up later. There's the show, but Emma gets to watch them. So several of the top American figure skaters such as Carol Heist and David Jenkins had retired from professional figure skating after uh the 1960 Winter Olympics. So that really opens up the field for lots of newcomers to kind of rise up the next generation. New because, yes, we're in the beginning of a new four year cycle until the next Olympics. And just to give you a little bit of background, because maybe you weren't a total nerd in middle school reading every book about Olympic ice skating that you could. I was not. But I am interested. Here you go. So the years 1948 to 1960 are considered kind of the golden age of American figure skating, with lots of medals, lots of Championships. Prior to the events of this story, the US was a skating powerhouse, winning the men's gold medal at every Olympics since 1948. Wow. And granted, the Olympics only happens every four years for the winter, but still, every single time, they also won the ladies gold medal in 60. We're here at the US Championships. You got some notable names. Just to give you a run down, the ladies gold medalist is Lauren's Owen, 16 years old. The pairs gold medalists are Maribel um Owen and Dudley Richards. Sorry. I'm sure he was lovely.
Speaker C: So the fact that your name was actually lovely.
Speaker A: So Laurence um and Marabel sisters. So Maribel is 20. Um they are the daughter of nine time US figure skating champion, three time Olympian, and coach Maribel Vincent Owen.
Speaker UNK: Okay.
Speaker C: So there was no possible way that.
Speaker A: They weren't going to be figure skaters. Pretty much, yeah. Got you. They were a skating family for sure. And then now it's time for some videos. Enjoy this two second cut while Emma and I spend 15 minutes watching figure shade.
Speaker C: Yay, you can watch with it. Actually, I suggest maybe you pause and find these videos in our show notes and then come back so that we're.
Speaker A: All on the same page. Yeah, for sure. All right. So I hope you enjoyed that. We had a nice time taking in some vintage figure skating. It was beautiful. It is um also a fun, just very sweet fact is that Maribel, um the younger ones, not the mother, the daughter, she was referred to as little Maribel because they have the same name. But she and Dudley, um the pair skaters, they were a couple off the ice as well. That's always nice. That's always kind of what you wish.
Speaker C: For because you're like, oh, you guys.
Speaker A: Work so well together. You look so romantic. You guys look so nice. So much trust. All right. And actually, he was apparently planning to propose on their next big trip. Which brings us to the evening of Valentine's Day. The US team and their coaches are photographed about to board Sabina Flight 548 from Idlewild Airport in New York City. Now JFK International.
Speaker C: Oh, no.
Speaker A: I was making a turtle. Uh i have now guessed turtles. You're right. They will um be traveling to Brussels.
Speaker C: En route to the World Championships in Prague.
Speaker A: Great. That was definitely what you were going to say. Yeah. They would land at the Belgian international airport. And next up, I'm going to show Emma a photo of the team taken right before they boarded the plane. You can view this on our Instagram at this podcast doesn't exist.
Speaker C: We'll have all the photos for the.
Speaker A: Episode here, but it's just very sweet. You can tell they are a very young team. Very young. It's almost as if their clothes are not made for them. They all look very tiny, which I mean, part of that I was saying while we were watching the videos, is that athletes, at least women uh that are very athletic, can sometimes be smaller.
Speaker C: Especially in figure skating.
Speaker A: But yes, they are a pretty young team because as I mentioned, a lot of the previous Olympians and other skaters had retired at the end of the previous Olympic cycle. All right, so I'm going to tell you a little bit about the flight. The plane of flight five, four, eight. So Sabina uh is actually an acronym for a series of words that I'm not going to attempt to pronounce it in French, I believe, but basically the Society of Air uh Exploration and Navigation. But all of those letters in French, my brain wanted to turn acronym um into a verb. Acronymized. Acronymized. Yeah. You have a Macronomy in English. That's fine. Yeah, I'm making up word, too. So Sabina was the national airline of Belgium, and it was based in um Brussels, where they were flying to, and it operated um from 1923 to 2001. Whoa, Jeez. Yeah. So they were around kind of from the beginning of commercial air travel. Better than Pan Am. True. And also just the fact that it was around until 2001. I'm trying to recall back to my childhood because I was born and for the most part raised on military bases in Germany. So we would travel back to the States to visit family. And just trying to remember the different. I feel like there used to be so many more Airlines right now. It's kind of American. Yeah. They go and they eat all the smaller. Yeah. And I get it. Capitalism. Okay. But it's just interesting to think about the plane itself was uh a Boeing 707 329 Intercontinental, which was this specific plane was first given over to uh Sabina, tested and given to them commissioned in January of 1960. Okay, so it's not an old plane. It's pretty much a year old. This is an example um I'm showing Ammo a photo of 707 329 Intercontinental. Looks like a plane. Not the specific one. Yeah, it's a 707. Very much what you're thinking of when you picture a commercial airplane. So the seven and um a half hour flight across the Atlantic was uneventful from New York to Belgium. Easy peasy.
Speaker C: Okay. Thank God. Uh no.
Speaker A: Okay.
Speaker C: Never mind.
Speaker A: Sorry.
Speaker C: Remember when I hate playing? Remember when I said this was a bummer and I know you said it was a bummer. And I know that you said that.
Speaker A: The plane portion is very important.
Speaker C: I hate planes.
Speaker A: I know. Just content. I did have the thought while I was doing research that this isn't going to help Emma's flying anxiety. But also keep in mind, this was okay. Yeah, you're right. Like 50 plus years ago. Right? That's how math works. Cool. More than 50. That's why I said 50 plus. Okay. Neither of us, though. I'm just so anxious. We're both Liberal arts majors.
Speaker B: It's fine.
Speaker A: All right. So leading up to their approach of the Zadntum airport, the crew, for unknown reasons, did not communicate with ground control for the last ten to 20 minutes of the flight. Uh no one's really sure why. Okay, so the first landing attempt was aborted. At the last moment, the pilot instead retracted the uh landing gear and accelerated. So they went back in the air, and it's thought that they did this because there was a smaller aircraft on the runway that had not cleared yet. So clearly there wasn't any communication happening from ground control to the cockpit. So maybe they didn't know.
Speaker UNK: Okay.
Speaker A: Although based on what I read, I got the impression that ground control was talking to them, but they were not responding. Flashback to flight 19, maybe a little, and then they weren't really responding. So then they attempted another landing on an adjoining runway, but that runway was not operational. So at this point, the plane circles the airport a total of three times, and its movements were described as bucking and banking at an increasingly steep angle, climbing to a height of 1500ft in the process.
Speaker C: So bucking and banking, I'm guessing, is like the nose up versus nose down.
Speaker A: I believe so, yes. At 10:05 a.m. Local time, the plane goes completely vertical and plunges to the ground, exploding upon impact just under 2 miles from the airport.
Speaker C: I want to screen into a pillow. You did not warn uh me. I uh mean, we have pillows if you need to.
Speaker A: This is a safe space, even though you did kind of turn my crying last week into clickbait. Did it work?
Speaker C: I don't know.
Speaker A: Did you listen, Ralph, what are the stats? All right.
Speaker C: I'm good.
Speaker A: Okay. Let me know if you need to scream. It's fine. So unfortunately, the destruction of life was total. All 61 passengers. Eleven crew members were lost, in addition um to one local man who was on the ground. His name was Theo um de Laet Delight. I don't know, but he was a young farmer and noted amateur cyclist, which I just thought was very sweet. Fellow farmer. Yeah. So he was out in the fields surrounding the airport, and another local man was um severely injured from the shrapnel. But he was okay, I believe. Maybe he had to get his leg, but he did survive ultimately. Okay, so all three members of the Owens family, um Lewins Maribel and their mother were on board, as well as I'm going to read off a long list of US figure uh skating royalty. Essentially, you have Bradley Long, the 1961 US men's champion, rode Lee Michelson, US bronze medalist Diane Sherbloom and Larry Pierce, the 1961 US ice dancing Champions, US men silver medalist Gregory Kelly, US ladies silver medalist Stephanie Stephie Westerfeld, US ladies bronze medalist Rhode Lee Michelson, and coaches Ed Shodon and Daniel Ryan. Obviously, that list is not complete. There were 61 passengers aboard, including the entirety of Team USA coaches, family members, skating officials. They were all traveling to the world Championship. Um from the wreckage, officials recovered Team USA jackets and even a copy of Sports Illustrated with Laurence Owens on the cover. So this issue of Sports Illustrated came out February 13, two days prior to the crash. And at the age of 16, she was named America's most exciting girl skater. And then I'm going to show Emma the photo also available on our Instagram. So here's the issue. She's so cute. She's so sweet. She's out on the ice. She's obviously having a great time, care free. And then this photo, it's a photo of that magazine in the wreckage that they were able to find. It's just so poignant. And again, um when I was doing my research, I guess retrospect, you can always find details that make something feel faded or uh bittersweet. But just the fact that this year, literally two weeks beforehand, was the first time that the US Championships were filmed. Yeah. So that we do have footage of these young skaters.
Speaker C: We know how they skated, how good they were. You know what I mean?
Speaker A: It's just eerie almost a little. So now we're going to kind of talk about the investigation into the crash. So obviously, the Belgian government wanted to know what was going on. Yeah.
Speaker C: A plane from the US has just.
Speaker A: Crashed into our runway. Well, it was originating from the US. It is the official area. So they immediately ordered a full inquiry into the cause of the accident, and they included the FAA, so the United States Federal Aviation Administration, as well as the ICAO, the International Civil Aviation Organization. And as is often the case on this podcast, the results were not super definitive and therefore very upsetting.
Speaker C: I mean, I wasn't expecting an answer.
Speaker A: Because of the nature of our it's our brand. Great. Unsolved.
Speaker C: It's our brand.
Speaker A: There you go.
Speaker C: That's what the merchant.
Speaker A: So the evidence is not conclusive enough um to offer a definitive 100% reason for the crash. The most um likely explanation was a mechanical failure of one of the flight control mechanisms, probably a malfunction of either the wing spoilers or the tail stabilizers. Okay, I clearly know nothing about flights.
Speaker C: But that makes sense.
Speaker A: If the plane was not rocking side to side, but rather front to back, that maybe the tail stabilizer might have something to do with uh that. That makes some sense to me. Yes. Um and that is the opinion of the FAA conclusion of their investigation. Reportedly, the FBI possibly was investigating the possibility of terrorism. However, there are no documents or reports available on the FBI's website related to this crash, which you would think because it's so old that it would have that even if it classified, even if it had been classified at one point, by this point, you some kind of Cold War thing or even just a little paragraph of like, this happened and people claim the FBI investigated. We didn't or whatever. So this next part comes from the comments of one of the YouTube videos in the show. So please take it with several grains of salt. Got it. So a little more than a pinch. Yes. A little smaller than a pesty pinch. Okay. So I'm just going to read what this um person said, which they are very articulate, which I feel like lends more credence to them than some of your troll YouTube commenters. But okay, they said one book even suggests that there was or were terrorists aboard. Terrorist terrorists, plural? Maybe not aboard the plane from the former Belgian Congo and that it was kept from the public. But the pilot was found to have a bullet in his head and a gun was found on the jet. And this would have been the very first aerial terror terrorist act. But it's been kept hush hush. I, in uh full disclosure, did most of my research yesterday and this morning. So I didn't have time to read a whole book. But perhaps a book they did not say. They just said one book. Wow. But perhaps there's more detailed information. I just thought I wanted to include it because that's slightly more related to our central theme as a podcast. Slightly some conspiracy in addition to unsolved tragedy. Uh but it's very interesting. So maybe if you work at the.
Speaker C: FBI and you're allowed to say anything.
Speaker A: Please let us know also. Hello, FBI agent listening through my phone. Hey, um nothing but respect. Carl. Um carl. I just gave him a name. There you go. All right, so we're going to talk about kind of the immediate aftermath of the crash. So actually, this was the first fatal accident involving a Boeing 707 in regular passenger service. So in addition to figure skating history, uh this is also significant in aerial history. And it happened just 28 months after the 707 airliner was placed into commercial use. So, you know, the Boeing 707 had only been around for two years. This specific plane had only been in use for about a year. Interesting. And to this day, it remains the deadliest plane crash ever to occur on Belgian soil, which when I started reading that fact, I was like, what about 911 on Belgian soil? Uh got it. Specification. All right. So in the immediate aftermath, the King of the Belgians um as well. Sorry.
Speaker C: Yes.
Speaker A: That's how he's referred to not the King of Belgium, but the King of the Belgians, which I think is nice. It has the emphasis on the people.
Speaker C: The Belgians, as opposed to the country.
Speaker A: I just find it so delightful that his title is King of the Belgians because it sounds like a fairytale character. Truly. Well, get ready. Oh, is he more fairy? Okay, here's my best attempt at pronouncing his name. I watched several archived clips. The um AP archive on YouTube is great. They have a bunch of the old news reels that would have played before the movies, I guess. Budwin, I don't know. It looks like Bow dwind, but it's likewin, Budwin, I King of the Belgians. Bowdwin the first King of the Belgian. Funny to offend all of our Belgians. I am sorry, your language, I will say.
Speaker C: On a trip to Denmark a long.
Speaker A: Time ago, my friend and I were walking down the uh Lane that our Airbnb was on, and we passed this store that was called Herdigirty.
Speaker C: Maybe it means something to that.
Speaker A: Like, it's like a knickknack or something. But in my brain, I went, So are you making fun of yourselves or the Swedish? Because is it the Swedish chef? That's the only way that I know. It made me laugh. It was so good. So I feel like there's some apparent humor in, at um least in modern days, of the way that certain things are said, even here in the US uh of, like, certain names or certain places, all of that. It just makes me laugh. Like, uh we call it gas and not petrol.
Speaker UNK: Yeah.
Speaker A: Detour. Feel free to cut it out if we're running time. But there was a Tik Tok where this guy was. Like, when you have people over from the face, uh like, we have some fries, chips, blah, blah, blah. Let me go in the elevator lift. Like double speak. Yeah, very clever. Very cute. Anyway, the King of the Belgian provides wood coffins with the Royal seal to transport the remains of the victim.
Speaker C: It got better. He sounds nice.
Speaker A: Yes. And then, although a statement was um initially issued that the World Championships would uh proceed as planned, a vote was then held amongst the participating parties who overwhelmingly opted to cancel the event out of respect for the loss of the US team. So no world Championships were held that year, but Prague was offered the opportunity to host them in. That's nice. So at this point, freshly uh minted President JFK issues a statement of condolence from the White House uh on behalf of himself and Jackie Kennedy. Uh and the loss of the pair skater Dudley Richards uh was particularly impactful because he was a personal friend of JFK and his brother. Oh, yeah, that's so sad.
Speaker C: I mean, it's all very sad, but.
Speaker A: To have that kind of connection makes.
Speaker C: It so much worse.
Speaker A: We'll get to the Kennedys at some point. Yes. But they had so much tragedy. Yes. So this disaster prompted the US figure skating executives to issue a mandate that still applies today, which is that no team traveling to international competition can ever be allowed to fly all together again. We'll get into the reasons why in a few minutes.
Speaker UNK: Okay.
Speaker A: Within a week of the crash, US skating officials established um a Memorial fund to honor the team. And since its inception, over 15 uh million dollars have been raised. And this money goes to support upcoming skaters because it's a very expensive hobby. I can imagine uh when it becomes a sport and not a hobby. Hobby. It becomes very expensive. And I don't have the source in front of me. Forgive me, but one of the sources mentioned that out of everyone that was on the plane, there were a couple of exceptions in that. One coach wasn't able to afford um the cost to travel. So they chose to not be on this trip. So obviously they survived. And then the I want to say, silver. The men's silver medalist from the event two weeks previous got sick. So he finished his program like visibly ill, so he wasn't able to attend. So the fourth place from the US champion was on this trip and was lost. And that skater that got sick reportedly sent a letter to that uh skater apologizing for being alive, which breaks my heart, that kind of survivors.
Speaker C: I pray that neither of us ever.
Speaker A: Have to experience that because I can't imagine the pain of that. And I'm sure especially soldiers uh or anyone who's in that kind of situation of like, I feel responsible for these people or it should have been me, that feeling, it's not your fault. Uh no. And I find it very interesting that we as human beings, we crave stories, but not always happy stories because we take the time to note these things. Throughout history, we take note of people who had a weird feeling or uh got sick the morning of 911 and didn't get on a plane. That I was recently reading about the Titanic. And who was it? Jpmorgan had the millionaire suite booked but then chose not to, and otherwise he would have gone down, too. It's just interesting uh that we take note of these things. Not that we enjoy feeling pain, but I don't know. Anyway, the Memorial fund, really amazing has benefited many skaters that became household names later on. I'll talk about some of them in a little bit at the time. Immediately following the crash, um the then vice President of US Figure skating predicted that it would require two to uh four years for the US to recover its international standing in the sport because remember, from 1948 to 1960, Americans were very much a stronghold in the field. So now we're going to move into kind of the impact and the legacy of the crash. So one skater described the enduring tragedy of uh the crash in an article from 2011, saying that not only had they lost a generation of existing coaches, but the next one as well. So all of these young skaters hopefully would have grown up to be Champions and then become coaches. So in this. They described it as a pyramid of, like, up top, you have your superstars, and then as you work your way down, you have younger skaters and coaches, and it all kind of cycles up and through, but you wipe out two levels uh so quickly. And this loss of coaches also creates a void um in that there's not as many prominent coaches left, which leads to international coaches coming over to the States to train skaters. So William Kip was a coach for the US team, uh and he was lost in the crash. But he was replaced by British former world Champions pair skater John Nicks in the fall of 1961. That same year. And Kip was the coach of future Olympians Peggy Fleming, who was only twelve uh at the time of the crash. So she lost her coach. Wait, so she wasn't on the no, she wasn't. Sorry. She was still um too young. Okay. She was not amateur, but like junior, I'm guessing Lawrence was probably the youngest at like 16 of the skaters. There were some family members of the as well, but Peggy Fleming, future Olympian as well um as Sasha Cohen. See, you do recognize.
Speaker C: Uh okay, so I was saying to Shannon earlier that.
Speaker A: Of the figure skaters that I know because I would watch it for like the Winter Olympics, but.
Speaker C: It wasn't something that I would follow, so I wouldn't really recognize anyone's name. So the only ones that I know are like, Dorothy Hamill, Tanya Harding and Michelle Kwan, which I'm now, which I'm.
Speaker A: Going to out Emma. She couldn't remember Michelle Kwan's name. American sweetheart. She only recalled that she voiced a character in Mulan, too.
Speaker B: That was a big deal because the.
Speaker A: Cartoon character that she's voicing is also, like, skating around behind behind the counter being like, what about this?
Speaker B: And they made it a big deal to Michelle.
Speaker A: Claude, would you want to talk about animated movies and emotional devastation? Call me sometime about Mulan, too. I love Mulan, too. All right. We can talk off air about it. Yeah.
Speaker C: And how amazing Mignolen is Queen.
Speaker A: Seriously. At the end, John Nicks um became the coach for Peggy Fleming. And then later on in more recent years, Sasha Cohen, both Olympic medalists, Italian world bronze medalist Carlo Fasi uh was another international coach who came over to the US to help rebuild the US for your skating program. One of Maribelle Vincent Owens students. So uh the mother of these two skaters, nine time US champion, one of her students, Frank Carroll, had kind of retired from competition and she actually wanted him to go to law school. She got very upset when she found out that he had taken a one year contract with the Ice CAPAIDS. She was like, no, go to school. Use your brain. He got into law school, I believe, if I'm recalling correctly. But um he never ended up going because several months later, Maribel, his coach and her daughters and the whole team uh was lost. So he actually did an about face and started coaching. He went on to coach Olympians such as Michelle Kwan and Evan Leicesichek, who I remember distinctly being in, I want to say, high school. Maybe it was like late middle school, but watching Evan life check on the Winter Olympics and just heart eyes emoji forever because I adore all kinds of all variations of figure skating, ice dancing. But there's something about men's single skating that is so powerful but elegant, and it's just great.
Speaker C: That's cool.
Speaker A: But the estimation that it would take two to four years to rebuild was uh actually proved to be pretty accurate. So rolling back a year in the 1960 Olympics, um Team USA took home two out of the three ladies medals as well as the men's gold. So they did very well for themselves. In 1964, there were no metals because they were essentially starting from the ground up. And then in 1966, um 17 year old Peggy Fleming. At this point, she takes the gold at the World Figure Skating Championships, as well as a gold medal at the but it wasn't until 1984 that Scott Hamilton uh takes home the men's gold medal. That took a while. Indeed. Yes. And I did not write down his age, but I want to say he was twelve. What? Yeah, he was twelve, which is wild to me, that children can be Olympians. Seriously. Uh it's like, what am I doing with my life? Exactly. I mean, you remember when it was like the core fours, like the gymnast. Yes. During another trade sport I care about. Exactly. Uh it was that whole thing of.
Speaker C: Gabby is so perfect, and she can do anything.
Speaker A: Like, you're watching these girls just do these perfect jumps and they're perfectly athletic.
Speaker C: And then you're like, they're younger than me.
Speaker A: They have algebra homework. Yeah.
Speaker C: They are accomplishing these amazing feats, but also doing school.
Speaker A: And Meanwhile, I'm just griping about being.
Speaker C: In grad school and being like, I.
Speaker A: Know, I want to read that. I don't want to do my homework. Yeah. You're not at a skating rink or in a gym at five in the morning.
Speaker C: Exactly.
Speaker A: The amount of discipline is respectable. Seriously. The utmost degree. Seriously. All right. So immediately following the crash, some previously retired skaters felt compelled to come out of retirement to kind of fill this void of there were no skaters or they were very young. Barbara Rolls Williams. She won the bronze medal in the 1960 Olympics and then retired to uh start her family. And she believes that the only reason that she was not on this flight is that she chose to retire and she was pregnant at the time of the crash. She believes that's the only reason otherwise she would have been on that plane. And there's a quote that she says in one of these articles that she feels that she was saved for a reason and that compelled her to come back and push hard. She actually came back and won the 1962 US Figure Skating Championships less than a year after giving birth. Geez, okay. I have never given birth. I'm very scared of the prospect.
Speaker C: Just a parasite inside of me that.
Speaker A: Comes out of me. Not great, but my future children, my Ralph.
Speaker C: Sorry, but the fact that the stuff.
Speaker A: That your body has to go through in order to both produce and birth a child, and then you get back on the ice and you do those splits and kicks. And also, if you figure Winter Olympics end in 1960, which I always think of winter starting in December. But the Olympics are usually held in January. February, right? I think so, yeah. So think about it. You're retiring. You're going to stop going to the rink at five in the morning, probably. So a year has passed between retirement and the time of the crash.
Speaker UNK: Yeah.
Speaker A: So you're out of shape for an Olympian, and then you have a baby and then you have to get back. But also just imagine the amount of pressure you have. The entire I mean, maybe not the entire country, but all of the country and the world that cares about us figure skating is questioning what's next, who is going to step up, what is going to happen. So I just think that's very incredible, remarkable bodies are amazing, truly. But yeah. So just kind of reflecting back on the last several minutes of facts, it now makes more sense when you take all that in why an entire team is not allowed to travel together anymore. Yeah. Because if you think about it, it would have still been horribly tragic. But imagine half the team is on a different flight. Yeah. You have some coaches, you have some skaters. And one of these articles, I believe it was one of like a contemporary uh newspaper article. Um so it came out in February of 1961, was talking about how a bunch of Canadian skaters when they landed in Prague and um they heard the news, they just broke down because some of them had been planning to travel with their friends on the US team. So again, that survivors guilt, that idea that what if it should have been me while healing. So I just think that's interesting. It's just one of those horrible um things that now I feel like if someone explained to me if I didn't know any of this story, but if someone was like, oh, yeah, the entire women's gymnastics team, it's the idea that theoretically Prince William and Kate and their kids, they're not supposed um to travel on the same plane because William's kids are the next in line.
Speaker C: Right. Yeah.
Speaker A: They kind of break those rules, I think. But that makes sense when you're like, oh, right.
Speaker C: I mean, it's kind of orbit to think about.
Speaker A: But you're planning ahead. Yes. If someone explained that to me about a current team, I was like, oh, that makes sense. But it's one of those things that. It's like you read a Professor Syllabus, and there's something very specific, a rule. Yeah. And you're like, what happened to make you put this in writing and like, this is the event that made them put it in. But we're going. We're uplifting. We're rising up. I didn't even mean to do this, but in 2011, a documentary called Rise uh Rising about the crash was given a limited theatrical release. And all the proceeds benefited uh the Memorial fund. And some notable recipients from the fund include Peggy um Fleming, the first woman to win a gold since the crash. Michelle Kwan, Adam Ripon, more recent. I do know that name. Olympian. There you go. So they all just talk about how it uh wouldn't be possible without this money. So that's really amazing. In January of 2011, the 1961 US Figure Skating team was inducted into the US Skating Hall of Fame in a special ceremony at the 2011 US Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina. All 18 members were inducted, as well as the six professional coaches that accompanied them on the flight. Their memory lives on. Truly, if you're interested at all in figure skating, the lineage of all of this is I guess uh I imagined it was a broader community. But truly, the lines that can be traced from your modern day Champions up through they got coached by Soandso, who was coached by Soandso. And it's uh all very connected, which makes it all the more kind of sad that this community just lost it lost two generations. Everything just wiped out. Yes, but yeah, that's the conclusion of my story. Like I said, kind of a bummer. So we're going to end on um an uplifting note.
Speaker C: Okay.
Speaker A: In that she's got a box. I do have a box.
Speaker B: Are there gifts to open?
Speaker A: Look what's here. This podcast doesn't exist from Santa. A gift from Santa time traveled because it's Christmas when this is released. I love this idea. Well, I will say Shannon opened one.
Speaker C: Of the gifts that I gave her for Christmas today. They are fuzzy llama slippers.
Speaker A: Um.
Speaker C: So, yes, friends, it is the cursed objects book.
Speaker A: Oh, I am so excited. He listened um to our Vine Ring episode. And yes, that's what I will be referring it uh to it as, because Latin is hard and I don't want to be reminded that I'm bad at it.
Speaker C: The ring is sylvaneous or Sylvania.
Speaker A: Yeah. So I just thought it would be a nice little resource for the podcast. Is the Dybbuk box in here?
Speaker B: No, but Zach thing in Holland, New Zealand.
Speaker A: Well, stay tuned. So Merry Christmas.
Speaker B: Thank you. I'm so excited, friend.
Speaker A: There's so much more. There's so much more to do. So many more cursed things to make me cry. It says on page 76 how to curse an object. So maybe we have an episode. Watch out. What's up?
Speaker B: I am so excited.
Speaker A: Oh, this is very fun. Sorry. I got you a book, but you can keep it here if you want.
Speaker C: Yes, we should actually have a.
Speaker A: We'll just develop a library.
Speaker C: Thank you very much.
Speaker A: You're welcome. I am very excited.
Speaker C: And in the new year, we'll have some new, fun things um to do. I'm so excited.
Speaker A: Yes. Well, like I said, that's the end.
Speaker C: Merry Christmas.
Speaker A: I um don't know. You think we'd be better at wrapping this up? We're really bad at it. But Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas. Holidays. Love all your families. Maybe don't get on a plane right now because it's Hobbit, but also the potential for it. Was uh it like terrorism? Bad, like equipment. The unsolvedness of it really makes me angry. Why we do this? Add it to the list of things.
Speaker C: That I want to know in the afterlife. I'm going to find an angel.
Speaker A: Angel at the desk. Well, the first thing is probably going to be, like, hugging all my pets and, like, family livers. But then I'm going to go find an angel at a desk and be like, I have a list. We don't need to sleep. So hope you got some time on.
Speaker C: Your hook to kill John and a Ramsey. Uh what happened to this flight with.
Speaker A: All of these wonderful, beautiful children on it for having a flight at 19?
Speaker C: Uh uh Seriously, all of these, you're.
Speaker A: Just going to go through our episode? So you've listened, right? You subscribe. Do we have the approval?
Speaker C: Yeah. Of the angel.
Speaker A: Do you, like, listen and subscribe to us on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcast? I hope so.
Speaker C: Do you want to be, like an angel?
Speaker A: Do you, uh like, rate and review.
Speaker C: And share it to your friends that might like us?
Speaker A: Share it to friends who might not like us and you want to bother them. You keep saying that. I love the idea of haunting people in that way. All right. When you frame it like that, it's.
Speaker C: Okay when we frame it as haunting.
Speaker A: People when they're alive. Yeah, I want to haunt people while I'm alive. And so I would like people to share that possibility with other people. Let me haunt your friends. How could we forget what we got to shout out? Jordan?
Speaker C: Oh, yes, our wonderful friend Jordan.
Speaker A: I'm only saying this because Ralph is technically our number one fan or number um one hype man. That's very true.
Speaker C: All right.
Speaker A: Yeah, he's number one fan, but he also kind of gets a pass because he's connected. Jordan, you're our number one unconnected fan. Our number one fan by choice. Yes, fan by choice. Not by blood or not even by. Whoa, walk that back. She finally got a bingo, and she didn't uh even need because she got.
Speaker C: It on our Vine Ring episode.
Speaker A: On a short episode. Short episode and didn't even need to use my little plugs at the end that she was cheating. So she didn't even cheat. You guys. She won her bingo. So shout out to Ms. Jordan. We love you very much. I hope that Texas is nice and cold for Christmas and I hope it doesn't take you another ten episodes to get bingo.
Speaker C: Yes, absolutely.
Speaker A: They're very thankful for you but if.
Speaker C: You have any suggestions of what we.
Speaker A: Should do for other episodes uh if you have anything Christmas related you'd like to tell us any ghost stories that you want me to read to Shannon to make her cry? If you have any plane crash related have you ever survived a plane crash? What's the craziest thing that's happened to you on a plane? We just want to know things. Also. We're both performers. We're open to feedback so if you have feedback you'd like to share with us please let us know. Do we Banjor too much? Yeah, you don't care about our stories. How rude.
Speaker C: Dad are you finally listening to this episode?
Speaker A: I don't know. But anyway, any of that stories feedback praise and adoration. You can email us at this podcast doesn't email@example.com and we've already kind of plugged our Insta but again this podcast doesn't exist on Instagram. We're fairly easy to find and in.
Speaker C: That bio in our Instagram we have the link to our bingo card so.
Speaker B: Maybe you can be uh like Jordan.
Speaker A: And win at bingo in which case we will give you a shout out of praise and adoration. Yes, of thank you for listening and also winning and maybe in the future we'll have some way to award you uh differently. Yeah, who knows if it becomes more of a competition there might be presents. Yes. Anyways, presents we hope that Santa brought to you all the presents you were.
Speaker B: Hoping for this year.
Speaker A: Santa, your mom. Who knows?
Speaker C: We've it.
Speaker A: I mean, if you're 14 still Santa's existing check back to our previous all right, Emma, I think it's time to go.
Speaker C: So remember, this podcast doesn't exist.
Wikipedia: “1961” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1961#Events)
Wikipedia: “Sabena Flight 548” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabena_Flight_548) ESPN: Still Crystal Clear (http://www.espn.com/espn/eticket/story?page=110215/skatingcrash&redirected=true)
Sports Illustrated, Feb. 13, 1961 (https://vault.si.com/vault/1961/02/13/mother-set-the-style)
Podcast: All Bad Things (https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/episode-086-sabena-flight-548/id1260408998?i=1000430564619)
Wikipedia: “1961 U.S. Figure Skating Championships” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1961_U.S._Figure_Skating_Championships)
YouTube: “Laurence Owen - 1961 US National Championships Freeskate” (https://youtu.be/0114AudgYms)
YouTube: “Maribel Owen & Dudley Richards - Freeskate US Nationals 1961” (https://youtu.be/qICTuC1SeWk)
This Day in Aviation: https://www.thisdayinaviation.com/tag/sabena-flight-sn548/
TIME: “In 1961 a Plane Crash Killed the Entire U.S. Figure Skating Team. Here's How the Tragic Legacy Lives On” (https://time.com/5172201/1961-plane-crash-us-figure-skating/)
YouTube: “Documentary - the 1961 U.S. Figure Skating Team & the Sabena Flight 548 air disaster” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0cYfPXxcco)
Sports Illustrated, Feb. 21, 2011, “The Day the Music Stopped” (https://vault.si.com/vault/2011/02/21/the-day-the-music-stopped)
Washington Post: “The terrible plane crash that devastated U.S. figure skating — and still shapes it today” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/retropolis/wp/2018/02/20/the-terrible-plane-crash-that-devastated-u-s-figure-skating-and-still-shapes-it-today/)
Vintage News: “The Saddest Day in Figure Skating History- The Fateful Flight of the 1961 U.S. Team” (https://www.thevintagenews.com/2018/10/06/1961-figure-skating-team/)