Week in Review : MAJOR EVENTS, IMAGES AND PEOPLE IN ORANGE COUNTY NEWS : AT THE SCENE : DC-9 Crash Devastates Military School ‘Family’
The news quickly was broadcast throughout Southern California: an Aeromexico DC-9 jetliner heading for Los Angeles had been struck by a small private plane and had fallen onto Cerritos, where it exploded in flames. There were no survivors.
In Anaheim, the news had a devastating impact on 23 people gathered in a hotel lobby.
They were seven families from the city of Navojoa in Sonora, Mexico, gathered in Orange County for a final weekend of play before their sons began the school year at St. Catherine’s Military School in Anaheim.
One more family and a teen-age girl were to arrive from Navojoa by plane that day. The grim confirmation came quickly: They had been aboard the fallen airliner.
The dead were Carlos and Guadalupe Lopez, their 13-year-old son Carlos Jr., who was returning for his second year at St. Catherine’s, and Dinorah Gonzalez, 17, who was going to enroll at Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy in Flintridge.
“I tried to talk Dinorah into traveling with us, but Dinorah said she wanted to stay two more days in Navojoa,” said Abelino Fernandez, 47.
“I lost my very best friend,” said his daughter, Pilar, bursting into tears.
Carlos Jr. had been happy to take the flight north so he, too, could stay home an extra day, said his friend Alfredo Santini. Fighting back tears, Alfredo, 14, said he had not said goodby to Carlos in Navojoa, only “see you Sunday.”
At St. Catherine’s, official word arrived during Mass, which was interrupted to say Mass for the Lopez couple and their slight, cheerful, sports-loving son known as Charlie among the students and staff.
This term, Carlos would have been the officer in charge of the youngest students, more a role model than military leader, the nuns said.
“I think he was personality plus, just a delightful boy . . .,” said Sister Alphonsus, who had charge of Carlos’ company last school year. “Flair--he really had the flair.”
She recalled that on his birthday last February, when he was too ill to go on the school’s trip to Knott’s Berry Farm, students brought back a stack of mementos for him that covered his bed. “Even boys from other companies brought them,” she said.
A special Mass was said in the school chapel, attended only by the Navojoa families and school staff. The following day--enrollment day--another Mass was open to all who wanted to mourn the Lopez family.
“We talk of family,” said Msgr. John Keenan, speaking in Spanish and fighting to control his voice. “This is our family, and each one of us has been hurt because of this loss. We’re going to miss him because we have suffered this loss.
“But he will still be with us. Let us make room for the memories of him that we will recount many times.”