Morning Flight Canceled 'Due to Mechanical Problem' : It's Business as Usual at Northwest

Times Staff Writer

As passengers pushed their way through the familiar weekday crowds at John Wayne Airport on Monday, Northwest Airlines supervisor Jesse Law said it was business as usual at his ticket counter, with no flight changes and just as many passengers boarding planes.

Northwest did confirm, however, that there was one cancellation: the 8:10 a.m. flight to Phoenix was called off "due to a mechanical problem with the aircraft," a reservation agent said. She offered no further information on the cancellation.

Law agreed that climbing aboard a plane Monday at John Wayne Airport, the final destination of the Northwest flight that crashed shortly after takeoff Sunday in Detroit, would be difficult for many people.

"People who get on an airplane the next day (after a crash) are courageous people," he said. "But it obviously doesn't faze them. They just know they've got to do what they've got to do."

Passengers interviewed Monday at the airport said they were traveling out of necessity. Most said they were a little frightened but added that the odds against another Northwest crash had to be astronomical.

"I figure if it's going to happen again, it's got to happen on the next airline now," said Fred Lang, 31, a Laguna Beach engineer on his way to Minneapolis.

Dick Thomas, 42, said he was just glad the plane that crashed Sunday "isn't here to take me home." He said he was returning to Minneapolis after a weekend visit with his brother in Riverside.

Jennifer Black said she had done some real soul-searching Sunday night as she watched television news accounts of the crash. Monday, she was flying home to Cleveland on Northwest after visiting a friend, Becky Tiravassi, in Orange. Black, 17, said she almost reached for the phone to tell her parents she would be staying a few extra days to let her nerves calm.

But Tiravassi, who was at the airport Monday to see her friend off, said she and Black "talked about the odds" and decided they would now be on her side.

"Besides, I don't think (my parents) would be too happy getting a call at 1 in the morning from a panicked child."

Monday's relative calm was in stark contrast to the scene at the airport Sunday night, when a media throng had pushed its way to the Northwest Airlines counter amid bright lights and whirring television cameras.

One man, at the airport to pick up a friend coming in from Sacramento, asked, "Gosh, is there a celebrity coming?" After he learned of the crash in Detroit, his voice lowered as he lit a cigarette and said: "Damn, this is just so sad."

Others said they were surprised that a crash hadn't happened sooner. Many said they had been reading that near-collisions have increased.

"There are just too many of them flying in the air and not enough air control," one man said.

As relatives of passengers arrived at the airport Sunday night, they were told of the crash by a Northwest employee. Then they were escorted to an airport security office for privacy.

Northwest ticket agents declined to talk. They said they had received many telephone inquiries and suspected that most relatives would have learned the news from radio or television.

Despite all the media attention, Mario Prietto, 17, said Monday that he had thought a friend's comments about the crash were a joke. The Santa Ana teen-ager said that if he had known it was a fact, he might have tried to change the flight he was taking Monday to Philadelphia.

But he added that he might not have had much choice in the matter. The National Conference of Christians and Jews had paid his way to a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Constitution in Philadelphia, he said.

"I am flying for free, so I don't think I would have much choice."

Times staff writer David Reyes contributed to this story.

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