They shared the same plane and the same fate. But the 230 victims of TWA Flight 800 had more in common than a death that was unexpected, sudden and cruel. The plane’s manifest was, in large part, a list of those for whom life seemed rich with anticipation and promise. The trip to the City of Light was to be a graduation present, or part of a romantic journey, or a step on another of life’s adventures.
By the middle of last week, searchers had recovered 113 bodies and had positively identified 93, though many families began to voice frustration—and outrage—over the slow pace of the process. Investigators recovered the flight’s voice and data recorders, but were still searching for much of the wreckage. Yet as the following profiles suggest, for families mourning the loss of their loved ones, there was little chance of lives ever being made whole again.
A father’s wish for a family trip to remember
Gene Silverman, 54, a prominent Los Angeles tax attorney, had told his law partners that for once he would not interrupt his three-week family vacation to Italy and Israel to call them. This time he had promised his wife, Etta, 53, and daughters Candace and Jamie a real holiday. Says friend Barbara Bergman: “They thought of this trip as a last sip of wine together as a family.”
The girls were ready to spread their wings. Candace, 22, a talented writer and recent USC English and psychology honors graduate, was about to begin looking for a job in public relations. Jamie, though only 15, was already counting the days until she could get her driver’s license. “By the time Jamie became interested in boys, around the age of 5, Gene had begun to realize that he couldn’t really control his daughters,” says family friend and law partner Bruce Glickfeld fondly. “Instead, he took pride in their independence.”
Friends remember the Silvermans as a remarkably close family who extended that warmth to others as well. “To be Etta’s friend,” says Barbara Kahn, was “to be enveloped in a net of safety and love.” Even in cutthroat legal circles, Gene offered his friendship to client and opponent alike. Jerry Rabow says his law partner had an “amazing ability to make a friend out of every person that he met.”
As a young attorney with the Justice Department, Gene met Maryland-born Etta Buckler in Washington, where they married in 1971. Soon after, the couple packed all their belongings into their Corvette and drove to Los Angeles, where Gene joined the firm he would stay with until his death.
On the eve of their final trip, the Silvermans bade routine farewells to their many friends. Jamie asked a neighbor to record Tupac Shakur’s CD All Eyez on Me so she could listen to it on the flight. Etta, who loved to shop, promised to bring one friend a Limoges box from Paris. “They had a chance to say goodbye to everyone,” said Jamie’s friend Justin Stone at a memorial service for the family. “They were leaving together. We just didn’t know they wouldn’t be coming back.”
He purposed from the airport, and died within hours
The morning of the day he was scheduled to fly to France, Michel Breistroff slipped out of the New York City townhouse where his girlfriend Heidi Snow lived; he told her he had some errands to do. Twenty minutes later he returned to reveal the real object of his mission: a bouquet of white irises, her favorite flower. “Everything he said was passionate,” says Snow, 24, who had known Breistroff for nearly two years. Just before he boarded Flight 800—for a brief return to his native France before going on to Germany to play professional hockey—Breistroff, 25, telephoned Snow and proposed from the airport. “I told him I’d marry him,” says Snow, who is studying for a general securities exam and a career on Wall Street. “He was so happy.”
Four days later, Heidi Snow stood ankle-deep in the Atlantic off Long Island with two of Breistroff’s family members, saying goodbye to her fiancé, who had gone down with Flight 800. The moment, captured by a photojournalist, became an icon, flashed on front pages around the globe—and this week’s PEOPLE cover. “He’s what I need,” Snow says tearfully, “and I can never find it again.”
She met him in August 1994, when the soft-spoken Breistroff was an anthropology major at Harvard and a standout on its hockey team. Born in the French city of Roubaix to Michel and Audrey Breistroff, he had taken up the sport at 7 and excelled early. At 15, he was recruited by a junior league in Canada, where he played until 1990, when he entered Harvard. He graduated in 1995 after narrowly missing out on a spot on France’s 1994 Olympic hockey squad but was a shoo-in for the 1998 team, a lifelong dream.
What he wanted beyond that was a life with Snow and eventual retirement to a big country farm. Now Snow is haunted by a conversation they had while flying to an idyllic Florida vacation ending just three days before his death. “At least if we crash this time, we’ll be together,” she remembers his saying. “We won’t die alone.”
An advocate for victims is a victim once more
It was an adage she repeated over and over to her friends: “The unknown is what’s going to get you.” Pam Lychner possessed an acute sense of the menace that could lurk at the borders of even the most ordinary life. “She taught me how to be cautious,” says her best friend, Kim Reid, who lived near Lychner in Houston. “How to park in a parking lot. How to approach a car. Questioning kept you safe.”
Lychner, 37, came by her trepidation from painful experience. In 1990, while showing a prospective male buyer, William Kelley, a house in Houston that she and her husband, Joe, had purchased and renovated, she was attacked by the man. Fighting back, Pam kicked the closet door off its hinges before Joe, who had been upstairs, rushed down and subdued the attacker. “For a year or two she was totally afraid,” says Joe. “She couldn’t even go outside.”
But what really upset her was when Kelley, a two-time sex offender, was considered for parole after serving only 2 years of his 20-year sentence—and had the temerity to sue the Lychners for the psychological damage he had supposedly suffered as a result of being held in the closet while they waited for the police to arrive. “It was unbelievable,” says Pam’s mother, Betty Rogers, of Aurora, Ill. “They had to get a lawyer and go to court.” Energized and enraged by the lawsuit (which was later dismissed), Pam helped cofound Justice For All, a nonprofit organization dedicated to victims’ rights. Lychner, a former TWA flight attendant, became a tenacious, in-your-face advocate, credited for helping to push through several changes in Texas law, including a stipulation that prisoners must go through a parole hearing instead of being granted automatic releases. Her fame brought her appearances on CNN, Good Morning America and Today.
Earlier this year, Lychner began to feel that her work for Justice For All, which claims a membership of more than 3,000, was encroaching on her family life. So she stepped down as president to spend more time with Joe, an account executive for a software firm, and their two daughters, Shannon, 10, and Katie, 8. She planned the quick, three-day trip to Paris with just the girls so that Shannon, who had taken to copying some of Monet’s paintings, could see firsthand the artist’s garden in nearby Giverny that had inspired them. Despite all the accolades and public service awards she’d won, “her primary agenda was always her family,” says Bill Teller, Lychner’s brother-in-law. “And her focus was to make the world safe—for the children.”
Covered in glory, guitarist Dadi was on his way home
Before heading to the United States to be inducted into the country-music Walkway of Stars in Nashville, Frenchman Marcel Dadi was ecstatic. “Do you realize what a fabulous gift they’re giving me?” he exclaimed to a friend. Dadi’s induction came on July 11—six days before he was to fall from the sky with 229 other souls aboard Flight 800.
Dadi, 44, a guitarist with a wide following in Europe, was the first Frenchman so honored in Nashville. Best of all, one of those witnessing the ceremony was Nashville immortal Chet Atkins, whose finger-picking guitar style had been Dadi’s inspiration. “This was the greatest honor Marcel could ever have wished for,” says his sister Martine Fournier, 40. “He was at a peak of happiness.”
His path to bliss had begun nearly 30 years ago, when the Tunisian-born Dadi, who lived in Paris, first heard some of Atkins’s recordings. Though he trained as a physical therapist, Dadi immersed himself in the guitar and several years later met Atkins in person. “I invented the style,” says Atkins, 72, who was best man at Dadi’s wedding in 1977, “and he improved on it.” Dadi, who was also a respected guitar teacher, gave more than 1,000 concerts and sold 2 million albums. After his Nashville induction, Dadi had planned to fly to Israel to join his wife, Catherine, 37, and their children, Samuel, 16, Joachim, 15, and Maayane, 7, on vacation. “He was the Pope of country [music] in France,” says friend Vincent Nanty, “except that the Pope can be replaced, and he can’t.”
‘They were having the time of their life’
Long after most of their contemporaries had settled quietly into retirement, Ruth and Edwin Brooks were off to see the world—again, and again, and again. Every autumn, they would plan a new itinerary to take them to far-flung places including Dubai, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam. The couple—who lived in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard—traveled so extensively that their four grown children worried about their safety. “I thought they’d die on a ferry boat in some backwater place,” says daughter Susan Mastrola, 55, a Warren, R.I., middle-school teacher. “For it to happen on Long Island…”
Edwin, who was 82, planned the trip to Paris, his wife’s favorite city, as a birthday gift for Ruth, who would have turned 80 on Aug. 13. Originally they had planned a more ambitious trip—to the Galápagos Islands—but Ruth, recovering from foot surgery, thought the terrain might prove difficult. “But it wasn’t enough to stop her from wandering around Paris,” says Mastrola.
In fact virtually nothing had kept the couple from traveling since Edwin, a petroleum-company executive, retired about 20 years ago. In 1993, Ruth gave each of her children a fax machine and said, “Turn it on, I’ll be faxing you.” Some of those faxes were sent to students studying geography with Mastrola back in Rhode Island. Each year she turned her parents’ itinerary into part of her curriculum—capped off by a visit from the Brookses themselves. “They saw places that you and I only dream about,” says Mastrola. “Sri Lanka, the woods of India, Malaysia. The only place they didn’t go was Antarctica.”
The one comfort for the family was that Edwin and Ruth died together doing what they loved. “I will always remember them being in the prime of their life, having the time of their life,” says Mastrola. “If you asked them, they probably would have chosen this.”
A couple found love, a life and death on 800
Together, Jacques and Connie Charbonnier made Flight 800 the center of their lives. The New York-to-Paris run was a plum assignment, and the husband-and-wife team flew it side-by-side for 21 years. Edward Hayes, who lived across the street from them in Northport, N.Y., says, “They met on that flight, fell in love on that flight and finally died on that flight.”
“They were inseparable,” recalls fellow TWA flight attendant Patricia Rogers. “They could have retired, and they only worked because they loved it.” Jacques, 65, flight service manager, and Connie, 49, a senior flight attendant, were considered something of an institution at TWA. “Whenever there was a new person on the crew, the Charbonniers would take care of them,” says Mike Shoemaker, an official of the flight attendants union. Rookie Jill Ziemkiewicz, 24, was making her first transatlantic jump that terrible night and was “so happy about being taken under their wing.”
The Charbonniers were happy with their lives on the ground as well. Just after marrying in 1976, the French-born Jacques and Connie, who was from Ohio, bought a house that their neighbor Al Fiorella describes as “a shambles. But they transformed the property by sheer hard work.” Jacques cleared away the underbrush and dead logs, trimming bushes and pruning” fir trees. Connie transformed the inside, decorating the walls with her own bright watercolors of French villages and Northport’s harbor. Jacques and Connie never had children but helped raise Simon, 28, Jacques’s son by his first wife, and had a special affection for Fiorella’s son Douglas, 14, whom they had known since he was born. Douglas mourns his two lost friends but believes that “it’s good that they did go together, because I couldn’t see Connie living without Jacques, or Jacques living without Connie.”
Jazz great Wayne Shorter faces a long, sad solo
Kneeling barefoot before the Buddhist altar in his two-story home in Studio City, Calif., renowned jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter solemnly picks up a stick and pings a bell. Then he begins to chant, rocking on his knees. It is a ritual that Shorter, 62, has been performing repeatedly since he learned that his wife of 26 years, Ana Maria, 47, and his niece Dalila Lucien, 17, had died in the crash of Flight 800. “Buddhism is helping,” he says. “It’s an inquiry into our eternal existence.”
But between chants his mind floods with memories of all the earthly pleasures he and Ana Maria enjoyed together: Of their first meeting at a Manhattan nightclub in 1967, where he was playing with Miles Davis. Of all the concert tours, first with Davis and later with the jazz ensemble Weather Report and others, on which she accompanied him over the years. It was Portuguese-born Ana Maria who introduced Shorter to Buddhism more than 20 years ago, bringing him a religious awakening that later helped both of them through the death of their only child, daughter Iska, who suffered a brain seizure in 1985 at age 14. The trip to Europe was a graduation present for Dalila, an aspiring artist, so she could see the paintings of the great masters. Though heartbroken over the loss of Ana Maria, Shorter tried to find solace. “Her guts and courage,” he says, “transcended any plan by one human being to destroy another.”
Bill Hewitt, Thomas Fields-Meyer, Anne-Marie O’Neill and Emily Mitchell
REPORTED BY: Tom Duffy in Boston, Bob Stewart in Houston, Champ Clark and Jeff Schnaufer in Los Angeles, Amy Eskind in Nashville, Lorna Grisby and Helene Stapinski in New York and Cathy Nolan in Paris