Crash List Shatters Hopes Held for Glendale Girl, 8
Art teacher Kelly Kang, whose 8-year-old daughter was booked to fly on Korean Air Flight 801, was one of the first to learn that it had crashed.
Kang, a former flight attendant for the airline, happened to be chatting on the telephone Tuesday morning with a friend who still worked there in reservations. Suddenly, her friend became serious.
“Things are really busy around here all of a sudden,” her friend said. “A plane has crashed.”
“Not another one,” said Kang, whose brother-in-law died when Korean Air Lines Flight 007 was shot down in 1983.
Her friend’s reply was one that Kang will never be able to forget.
“Yes,” her friend said. “On Guam.”
Tiffany Kang, who loved art and wanted to be a TV anchorwoman when she grew up, was to be on the Korean Air flight from Seoul to Guam that morning. She had been in South Korea to visit relatives and was going with them to Guam for a family vacation.
Kelly Kang’s sister, Meejin Park Lee, was also supposed to be on the flight.
Uncertainty lingered into Wednesday about the little girl’s fate, and it was not until late in the day that the airline released a list of passengers. Her name and that of her aunt were not among the survivors.
On Tuesday night, Kelly Kang told her story amid frantic calls in attempts to get information about her daughter, sister or any of the eight other relatives who had tickets for Flight 801.
She sat at a cluttered desk in her Elite Art Studio school in La Crescenta, near paintings she had done of her daughter and Tiffany’s artwork. They included a felt pen drawing, called “Daddy and Me,” that the girl did in 1994 when she was 5. The drawing, used for a cover of L.A. Parent magazine, shows a smiling girl standing next to a man holding a briefcase in one hand as he stretches out his arms to embrace her.
Kelly Kang and her husband are now divorced, friends of the family said. He lives in South Korea with their son, but neither were among the group going to Guam.
Nearing 11 p.m., almost 12 hours since Kelly Kang had learned of the crash, she sat slumped over the desk, a neat handwritten list of 10 names in front of her and a phone glued to her ear, relentlessly calling contacts at the airline, hospitals on Guam, police, embassies, relatives, friends.
Atop the list was penciled, “Tiffany Kang, 8, USA.”
After numerous other calls, she slammed a pencil into the time-worn walnut desk, then cradled her head in her hands, sobbing. Another sister, Meena Park, who has been living with Kang and Tiffany in Glendale for the last several months, took over the telephone duty. A half-dozen friends poured coffee, offered cookies and monitored TV reports.
Kelly Kang walked out to an empty, gray hallway, away from all the artwork and the people there to support her. She leaned against a wall, head buried in her arms.
“My daughter was on that flight,” she said quietly. Her reddened eyes were too dry to cry anymore.
“So was my sister. And all of my sister’s family.”
Her fist slammed the wall. Then she drew a deep breath and headed back to the phone.
Still without official confirmation that her daughter was dead, she left Wednesday morning by air for Guam.
At least three other passengers from Southern California were on Flight 801, Korean Air officials said: Ben Hsu, a teenager from Hacienda Heights, and two passengers from San Diego, Sean Burke and Wendy Hope Bunten.
Burke, 24, was traveling to Guam on a scuba diving vacation with Bunten, a 37-year-old attorney. Burke taught scuba diving and worked as a waiter at the Bombay Indian restaurant in San Diego.
“Customers loved him,” said restaurant owner Rakash Popat. “He would recite poetry, they wanted to sit in his section,”
Callers to Bunten’s law office were referred to a statement released by the family, which said she was a trial lawyer with two children.
“She gave her all to family, friends and clients alike,” the statement said. “We would like her to be remembered for the generous and caring person she was. Wendy was a vivacious woman full of life.”
Ben Hsu, 15, was the only son of a Hacienda Heights couple from Taiwan. Ben joined his aunt, Gloria Chung, of Marietta, Ga., for the flight to Guam, with her three children, Linda, 17, Timothy, 13, and Grace, 11. Only little Grace was named on the airline’s list of survivors.
Ben’s parents were overcome with grief upon hearing about the crash. They left Los Angeles on Wednesday for Guam.
Times staff writers John L. Mitchell and Joe Mozingo in Los Angeles, and special correspondent Paul Levikow in San Diego and researcher Edith Stanley in Atlanta contributed to this story.