PITTSBURGH - All this week we remember the 132 people who died when US Air Flight 427 crashed in Beaver County 25 years ago this week.
Dennis Connolly's twin brother was on the plane, but through his grief, he helped all the families change history and made sure families are treated with respect.
"Well, we were best friends. We always had a play pal," said Connolly.
Identical twins Dennis and Bob Connolly were brothers and best friends.
"You know, we would double date, we were in each other's wedding. It was a very close relationship," said Connolly.
But their bond was violently severed 25 years ago when Flight 427 fell from the sky over Hopewell Township. It was a regular workday at OK grocery that turned into a nightmare for Dennis and his family. A call from his wife interrupted his work.
"She said, where was Bob?" recalled Dennis. "One day he was going to be in Philadelphia, one day he was going to be in Chicago and of course, neither one of us remembered which one was what. So we called the house to talk to his wife or him, hopefully, and a neighbor answered. That was not a good sign."
For agonizing hours the families heard nothing from the airline. Confirmation from US Air finally came at four in the morning. It took another two weeks before the Connolly's had enough remains to hold the funeral. Dennis is the only family member who has spoken publicly about the crash.
"Can you even believe that it's been 25 years?" asked Channel 11 Anchor, Peggy Finnegan.
"Some ways it seems like it's been forever," said Dennis. "Some ways it seems like it was, you know, yesterday or last month."
To deal with the pain, Dennis and his sister in law took advantage of group counseling provided by the county. Dennis was also president for five years of Flight 427 Air Disaster Support League. The group took on the aviation industry. They say they were disrespected after the crash, and couldn't get the smallest bit of information.
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"Everybody wanted to know who their loved one was sitting next to," said Dennis. "I can't give you a reason for that, to be honest with you but it was something 90% of the people wanted. Us Air would not release a seating chart, and their argument was I don't know if they were sitting there."
The victim families involvement led to the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act of 1996 signed by then-President Bill Clinton. The act provides information, services, and support to families of passengers involved in commercial aviation accidents. It's the same policy that was used to help families after 9-11-2001.
In the quarter of a century since the crash, Dennis says the grief has softened but it never really goes away and can be sparked anew by the most mundane things.
"You buy something, and you pay for it, and your change is $4.27," said Dennis. "The times that I got done work at 4:30 in the afternoon and I'd get in the car, and it would be 4:27; it just pops up."
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Dennis and the disaster support league helped build a monument on the crash site. It's where he and the other families go to find solace for a type of loss experienced by a few.
The Flight 427 Air Disaster Support League has disbanded and Connolley says that's okay. It accomplished what it set out to do.
Wednesday on Channel 11 news at five, we're sitting down with the man who led the investigation into the crash. Former NTSB Chairman Jim Hall flew in from Tennessee to talk to Channel 11 and explains why flight 427 affected him differently than other crashes.
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