One of Florida’s worst plane crashes being revisited by local filmmaker

An Eastern Airlines jet (Courtesy of Wikimedia Comons)

Air disasters in Florida are not rare. Since 1931, more than 300 crashes have been reported. However, the ones landing in the Florida Everglades have proven to be the deadliest.

One of the worst, the crash of Eastern Airlines Flight 401, is being revisited by a local filmmaker, Erin Brockhouse, to honor the survivors of one of the worst air disasters in American history. The 1972 crash caused 101 fatalities and left 75 survivors.

She said she thought it’d be interesting to make a documentary about it because the only account that exists is an ABC reenactment, wherein the creators interviewed survivors and then created a scripted story to depict what happened.

“But that’s not a documentary, that doesn’t show real emotion and how this has really affected people,” said Brockhouse.

The flight which was scheduled from New York City to Miami on Dec. 29, 1972, was reportedly “uneventful before the crash,” according to one of the survivors. The crash is attributed to a faulty light, and overconfidence in the autopilot system.

From Digital Public Library of America, courtesy of Erin Brockhouse

One of the survivors, Ronald Infantino, lost his wife of 20 days on the return from their honeymoon in New York City. Brockhouse said his attitude towards the plane crash is amazing. There’s no resentment. He’s accepted the crash as a part of his life.

The Eastern Airlines 401 incident is just one of three major plane crashes that have occurred in the Everglades, and the second-worst in state history. The 1996 ValuJet crash is currently the worst, with 109 fatalities.

The project came to Erin Brockhouse after her father, Bruce Brockhouse, an architect, started working on a memorial for the survivors with his partner, Al Naranjo. The idea emerged in 2007 when Bruce Brockhouse met Infantino in New York City, and they struck up a conversation about Infantino’s experience on flight 401.

Infantino described the survivors’ group struggle to plan for the memorial, and Bruce Brockhouse offered his expertise along with his partner Naranjo. In 2008, Brockhouse Associates and the Eastern Airlines survivors met for the first time to discuss preliminary designs and location ideas.

The first design was intended to be an interactive traveling exhibit that would honor the departure and arrival locations at John F. Kennedy International Airport and Miami International Airport. The design did not make it past preliminary renderings because of lack of approval from JFK and MIA and because patrons would not like to be reminded of an airplane crash before boarding their flights.

The memorial is being constructed at an entrance to Miami Springs next to the welcome to Miami Springs sign. There had been discussion of building it at the Curtiss Mansion, a historical Miami landmark that was also used for National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) hearings for the crash. However, it did not receive approval.

The design consists of a permanent structure featuring a model of the aircraft – a Lockheed L1011 – with 12 smaller models of the same aircraft individually painted by local artists. Some of the artists include Estaban Blanco, George Rodez, Evelyn Valdirio and Jaqueline Roch.

The base will include engraved names and information about Eastern Airlines Flight 401.

Laura Antunez is a Cuban-born writer who loves reading, watching movies and drinking coffee. She is an FIU senior journalism major who loves to write about science and astronomy.