We dedicate this episode to all the 583 victims of this tragedy. They are remembered.
To the family and friends of the victims...our sincerest condolences.
Special Guest: Dorothy Kelly, a Pan Am Flight Attendant who survived the accident, tells her harrowing and heroic story of survival and helping those in need.
On March 27, 1977 at 5:06 PM local time on the island of Tenerife in the Spanish Canary Islands off the Moroccan Coast…a KLM 747 attempted to take off without clearance and collided with a Pan Am 747 which was taxiing on the same runway at the direction of air traffic control.
A total of 583 people were killed in the accident making it the worst disaster in aviation history to date.
We remember our Pan Am family members who lost their lives in the line of duty that terrible day:
Francoise Colbert de Beaulieu Greenbaum
Miguel Torrech Pere
Aysel Sarp Buck
Luisa Garcia Flood
Please visit the International Tenerife Memorial page for more information: https://www.tenerife-memorial.org/en/.
Announcer: This is the ABC Weekend News. Here now, Bill Beutel.
Bill Beutel: Good evening. Today, in the Canary Islands, 400 miles off the coast of Africa, there was the worst disaster in the history of aviation. At least 550 people died when two 747 jumbo jets, one, a Pan Am flight from Los Angeles, the other, a KLM flight, collided on the runway in Tenerife.
Reporter: The collision of the two jumbo jetliners produced fires and explosions, which could be seen and heard for miles. Firemen were unable to contain the flames. Flames, one survivor said, did most of the damage.
Tom Betti: This is a special Tenerife memorial edition of this program. You just heard a clip from ABC News on the evening of Sunday, March 27th, 1977, when many Americans learned the tragic news, even though there was limited and fragmented information available in the hours after the disaster. Earlier that day at 5:06 PM local time on the island of Tenerife in the Spanish Canary Islands off the Moroccan coast, a KLM 747 attempted to take off without clearance and collided with a Pan Am 747, which was taxiing on the same runway at the direction of air traffic control.
The KLM 747 named The Rhine was Flight 4805 under the command of Captain Jacob Veldhuyzen van Zanten, who was KLM's celebrated chief training pilot and was featured in the airline's advertising campaigns. The Pan Am 747 named Clipper Victor made aviation history seven years before in 1970 by being the first 747 aircraft to carry passengers across the Atlantic and inaugurated the jumbo jet era.
This aircraft was Flight 1736 under the command of Pan Am Captain Victor Grubbs with First Officer Robert Bragg and Flight Engineer George Warns. A total of 583 people were killed in the accident, making it the worst disaster in aviation history to date. The KLM plane had 248 passengers and crew on board. The Pan Am plane had 396 passengers and crew on board. All 248 souls on board the KLM plane were killed. Of the 396 people on board the Pan Am plane, only 61 survived the accident.
One of those survivors, Dorothy Kelly, a Pan Am flight attendant, will be joining us to tell her harrowing and heroic story of survival and helping those in need. First, you're going to get an interesting look into the disaster by listening to news reports from all three networks from the day after the disaster when the media was able to reach the remote island and piece together what happened.
We are presenting all three network broadcasts on this program to give you a unique perspective of the historic event along with eyewitness accounts. We caution that some of our listeners may find the graphic details in the news clips in our interview to be disturbing. Listener discretion is advised. The following news clips are about 18 minutes before our interview with Pam Am flight attendant Dorothy Kelly. We'll start with a clip from ABC News from the next day, March 28th, 1977.
Announcer: This is the ABC Evening News with Harry Reasoner and Barbara Walters.
Harry Reasoner: Good evening. Barbara is on vacation this week. When the airlines put the Boeing 747 into service seven years ago, insurance experts trying to send a reasonable rate predicted two disastrous crashes of the huge planes in the first 18 months of service. The crashes didn't happen. The 747 safety record has been outstanding. Palestinians burned one at Cairo airport and 76 died in two crashes, but it turned out to be one of the safest planes in history.
Yesterday, the average is caught up with a 747. Two of them, both on charter flights, both on the ground collided at Tenerife airport in the Canary Islands. It was the worst disaster in aviation history. There are at least 578 dead, all of the 248 aboard the Dutch KLM plane taking off, and at least 330 of the 396 aboard a Pan American plane. Both planes were full of vacationers. Pan Am had brought most of these people from Los Angeles to the Spanish-owned Canary Islands. They were going to transfer to a ship for a Mediterranean cruise.
Both planes were supposed to land at Las Palmas on another island. A bomb had gone off there in a store and flights were diverted to Tenerife. Then in a confusion to be sorted out, they collided on Tenerife runway, the KLM taking off, the Pan Am plane taxiing. Any air travelers wondered during some white-knuckled moments what it would be like. Spanish television cameras got some idea of what it looked like last night after the collision. Mrs. Floy Heck of Laguna Hills, California tells what it felt like.
Floy Heck: Oh, my God. All the fire. I don't know why my hair didn't catch on fire. I jumped, but I sat on the part of the wings almost falling backward. Anyway, I caught myself, and so I had to jump landing on my feet, which I did. I'm afraid I landed on somebody's back. I hope and pray that they were safe.
Harry: Today, the fog was better. The fires were mostly out. The investigation began. Peter Jennings has a report.
Peter Jennings: The burned-out hulls of the two jumbos make very clear the extent of the human devastation. Many of the dead, their personal belongings still lie indiscriminately along the runway, are so badly burned as to defy identification. The impact with a KLM plane traveling at more than 150 miles an hour was horrendous. It was just after 6:00 PM, the fog had rolled thickly in over the airfield.
There is no ground radar here and it is absolutely sure that no one, neither the planes nor the airport tower, could see one another. There is no question of who hit whom, KLM hit Pan Am, that human error was involved is apparent, but whose? Critical evidence will come from the wreckage. The onboard recorders monitoring all cockpit conversations will provide vital clues. Until they are released, this collision remains a gruesome and unsolved tragedy.
Harry: Peter, what's it like there today? Is everything back to normal? What kind of feeling do you get?
Peter: Well, Harry, there's a mixture of confusion here, tremendous sadness, and strange enough rather calm among some people. At the hotel where there are some other American survivors downtown, I must confess I found them surprisingly calm. I asked one survivor if he was always calm or if, in fact, he thought he might still be in shock. I think most of them feel that they're still in shock that the realization of this terrible tragedy hasn't hit them. People are confused also on the question of what actually happened.
Harry: It's possible they'll never know, I suppose.
Peter: I hate to be evasive. I think probably on the surface of it, it is not impossible that they will never know. The black boxes, the recorders which record all the cockpit conversations, do appear, in the words of some experts here, to be the key when they are revealed to giving an indication of exactly who was, where, at what time.
Harry: One of those black boxes has been recovered and will be carried to Washington tomorrow. The boxes from the Pan Am plane, it contains a tape recording of conversations between the cockpit and the control tower just before the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board will analyze the conversations in an effort to find out what happened and why. Rex Ellis is in Tenerife and he talked there with two survivors. One of them was John Combs of Hawaii, whose wife, Louise, also had been listed as a survivor.
John Combs: We were the first row seats behind first class with no seats in front of us. Fortunately, there was a bulkhead there and we were able to stand up. Everything's spilled out, torn metal and trays, just everything. You have no idea what a pile of stuff it was, but I made a 20-foot jump literally. I just said to my wife, "I'm simply going to push you." She was reluctant to go at that jump and I said, "We'll just go," but then people were pushing the backs of us and she went down and apparently got lost in the rubble.
Louise: I then jumped. As he jumped, there was another explosion. I ended up in a hole in the plane and I felt fire on top of me just completely surrounding me. I just knew I was gone. My lungs got full of smoke and I was just ready to give up. I just thought, "Well, this is it." Then it seemed like it cleared, so I came to enough. I started flying up the side and my son came back after me. He saw my head and he reached up and he grabbed my arms and pulled me out, and then he and my daughter-in-law dragged me to safety.
Tom: Here's a clip from NBC News, the day after the accident on March 28th, 1977.
Announcer: This is NBC Nightly News, Monday, March 28th, with John Chancellor and David Brinkley reporting from the NBC News Center in New York.
David Brinkley: Good evening. John Chancellor is off tonight. He'll be back tomorrow. In the horrible air crash in the Canary Islands, what is known now is that at least 578 people died, the worst ever. What is not known now is exactly what caused it to happen. Here on a diagram of the Tenerife airport in the Canary Islands with some models, we will show you what facts we have been able to get at this hour.
The two planes were parked here at the terminal. Normally, to roll to the end of the runway, they would have used this taxiing strip. It was crowded with parked airplanes, and so they both were rolled out this way. KLM in front, Pan American behind it. Exactly how far, we don't know. KLM rolled down here often to this little side place down the taxiway to the end of the runway and sat there waiting to take off. Pan American was rolling down behind it.
At about this point, the tower said to the Pan Am pilot, "Are you clear of the runway?" He said, "No." At about this point, he saw the KLM plane charging toward him. He tried to turn into this ramp to avoid it. It was too late and they collided at that point with the result, as we say, 578 people dead. David Burrington is on the scene in the Canary Islands and has a report for us now.
David Burrington: The airport here today still looked like a graveyard for airplanes, the lone runway cluttered with the broken remains of the two big jets. Several teams of investigators arrived to hear conflicting stories as to what went wrong. KLM experts from Holland said the air traffic controllers had gooped with the result that the two planes were on the same runway at the same time.
Some Spanish officials, however, blamed the KLM pilot. Whatever the truth, it shouldn't be hard to figure out once tape recordings are analyzed of conversations between pilots and tower prior to the disaster. The situation was complicated by thick fog and heavy traffic just before the crash. The survivors, most of whom lost members of their family in the crash, told what happened.
Survivor 1: A crash. It was a tremendous explosion. There was fire. There was gasoline spewing out. There was smoke. The fumes were awful. The whole cabin next to me was just completely gone.
Survivor 2: I realized, I saw flames coming, so I figured I'd find my mom and go. I looked at my dad and he told me to jump, so I just crawled out and jumped.
David Burrington: Could you tell that a lot of people we're not going to make it?
Survivor 2: It's not something I thought about. I was trying to get the immediate people around me out, and then I figured I should go. It wasn't frightening. I wasn't frightened. You realized, "Well, wait a minute. It might blow if I should go. The people were calm. They weren't really screaming or anything. You don't think about it. You just saw the flames and it was time to go.
Survivor 3: My first thought was, "Wait, the fire engines would come out there," but then it got so bad where we were and we knew they weren't coming that we had to get off. I knew that I wasn't going to stay in there and burn up.
David Burrington: How does it feel to be a survivor in what is the world's largest air crash?
Survivor 3: It feels great to be alive. I'd be lying if I said anything else.
David Burrington: One final irony. A new international airport is now under construction on the other side of the island. Much bigger, more modern, better weather. There's general agreement that had it been in operation, the crash here would never have happened. David Burrington, NBC News on Tenerife island.
Tom: Let's take a listen to a clip from CBS News, the day after the disaster on March 28th, 1977.
Announcer: This is the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.
Walter Cronkite: Good evening. It still is not known exactly how many persons died in that airplane collision yesterday. The two airlines involved, Pan American and KLM Royal Dutch, count 576 victims, 328 of the 396 aboard the Pan Am plane, all 248, including 4 Americans aboard the KLM plane. The Spanish authorities of Tenerife island off the Moroccan coast count four fewer victims. Among the survivors, all of them from the Pan Am plane, many are in serious or critical condition. We have a report from Bill McLaughlin on Tenerife island.
Bill McLaughlin: The investigation into the worst collision in aviation history was just getting underway here tonight. The wreckage of what used to be, two 747 jumbo jets carrying over 600 people, was strewn across 200 yards of runway. Much of which was melted from the intense heat of multiple explosions. Experts from Pan American, Royal Dutch KLM Airways, and the US and Dutch governments arrived today to probe the debris and the causes behind the tragic accident. At this point, there seem to be only two possibilities.
Either the instructions of the Spanish air controller were wrong or unclear or one of the pilots made a fatal error in the dense fog that enveloped the runway area. Most of the survivors had no clues as to the causes of the accident. Most of them were completely taken by surprise. Meanwhile, another type of investigation must be made. Three American pathologists are headed here to help identify victims. Not an easy task for 95% of the bodies are charred beyond recognition. Bill McLaughlin, CBS News on Tenerife in the Canary Islands.
Walter: Most of the passengers aboard the Pan Am jet were from California, members of a charter group who were to have cruised the Mediterranean. Detailed information from the Canary Islands on what happened to the passengers was a long time coming as Richard Wagner reports from Los Angeles.
Richard Wagner: All through the night and all day as investigators sifted the wreckage 6,000 miles away, hundreds of Californians waited and waited for news of friends, of families. The calls came slowly. Charles Amador got one of the first, his son John, a survivor, telling what happened.
Charles Amador: He looked up on the right window where he was seated. He looked out the window and he saw this KLM plane headed right for them. He knew that there was no way in the world that the crash could be avoided because the plane was about a foot off the ground and was headed-- He said that he estimated the speed around 200 miles an hour at that time. When they heard the crash, he said he was crawling over bodies and people were screaming and quite confused, those that were suffering.
Richard: Another who survived, Joan Holt, she called her mother in San Diego.
Joan Holt: I said, "Are you all right?" She says, "As far as I know, I'm all right." She was very nervous and I said, "Do you expect to continue on the trip?" She says, "Oh no, mama, so many people were killed." She was alive.
Richard: You must feel--
Joan: Thank God.
Richard: The community hardest hit by the tragedy is Leisure World, an affluent retirement village south of Los Angeles. 37 residents of Leisure World were on the Pan Am charter. 27 of them are reported dead. 19,000 people live here. Most of them retired with time and money for travel. Their reaction to the tragedy was shock and sorrow and a few said they were thankful they had not chosen this particular trip to the Mediterranean. Two of the dead were Helen Peters and Helen Halldorson, residents of Leisure World who were real estate agents here.
Leisure World Resident: I know that they are in a group. They're lovely ladies. They sold a lot of property here in Leisure World and so many people say, "Oh, I bought my home from her and I bought my home from her." They're in grief over there right now, all through this building, the whole administration building. It was quite a shock to hear that there were so many from this small community of 19,000.
Richard: Tonight, for most of the relatives and friends of the passengers aboard Pan American Flight B150, the agony of uncertainty and waiting is over. The next of kin have been notified. All over the country, teletype machines are tapping out the long, long list of the dead. Richard Wagner, CBS News, Los Angeles.
Walter: The White House announced this evening that President Carter has ordered a United States Air Force plane sent from West Germany to the Canary Islands to evacuate about 12 of the most seriously injured survivors of that crash.
Tom: The Carter administration immediately sent a US Air Force plane with medical personnel and burn specialists to assist and transport victims in critical condition back to the United States. Let's listen to a KLM spokesman navigate a difficult question from the Associated Press on March 30th, 1977, three days after the incident many call the crash of the century.
KLM Spokesman: KLM has been informed by the Dutch team assisting in the investigations of the cause of the collision at Los Rodeos Airport that according to the voice recorder of the airport control tower, it appears that no explicit clearance for takeoff was given to the captain. It's inconceivable to KLM that the captain would have taken off if he'd known that clearance had not yet been given. In order to get a clear picture of the cockpit crew's proceedings, it will first be necessary to listen to the cockpit voice recorder of the KLM aircraft.
It is possible that an explanation could be obtained from this due to the fact that the highly-specialized equipment necessary is not available. It will not be possible to do this at Tenerife as yet the cockpit voice recorder is being held by the Spanish authorities. The Dutch investigation team considers the information gained up to now insufficient for any conclusions and will, therefore, continue its work in collaboration with the Spanish commission and the American investigation team.
Associated Press Interviewer: Based on the statement, is it conceivable to you that even though your pilot was told that he was free to hold but not to proceed any further, he might have said, "No, I have to take off"? How do you explain this? This is a direct conflict and the explanation of why this happened. It's very clear-cut, the fact that he was given clearance only to hold. He was not given clearance to take off. If he did, it would have to be an error on his part, would it not?
KLM Spokesman: You are using words which are unfamiliar to me in the transcript that has been read to me of the recording. The word "hold" is not being used.
Associated Press Interviewer: We have press reports in America, wire reports that, in fact, that is the language used by the Spanish investigating committee that they said they gave your pilot permission to hold but not to take off.
KLM Spokesman: Prior to that, there was a word which might stipulate and I put it very carefully, which might be interpreted by a crew that they were given clearance to take off. That's all I'd like to say at this point in time. This is one side of the story. The other side might well have been on the cockpit voice recorder, the communication between the pilot and his co-pilot, and, on the other hand, communication between the aircraft and the tower.
Tom: By this time, it became clear that KLM Captain van Zanten either intentionally took off due to arrogance and a lack of patience or mistakenly thought he had clearance to take off due to garbled radio traffic. Either way, the KLM captain was clearly at fault for the disaster. Now, to our interview with Dorothy Kelly, a Pan Am flight attendant who survived this terrible incident. Dorothy, I'd like to thank you for coming on this program. I know it's a difficult topic.
Dorothy Kelly: Hi, I'm glad to be here with you, Tom.
Tom: Let's talk about March 27th, 1977 in Tenerife. I know it's a very difficult memory, but let's start there. Can you give us a picture of how that day started? I understand that there were some diverted flights and then you ended up in Tenerife. You and your passengers were on the tarmac for a while. Can you just tell us about how the day started?
Dorothy: Oh, sure. Well, the flight for me started at Kennedy Airport in New York in the evening and it had originated in California. It was a 747 and the passengers were going on a Mediterranean cruise. They were to pick up their cruise ship in the Canary Islands. It started out very normally. I reported to work. On 747s, Pan Am had two pursers. A junior purser and a senior purser. That was just by how long you had been working. I was the junior purser.
The senior purser did most of the crew briefing pre-flight, before the flight. She was French, was very self-conscious about her French accent, and asked me if I would work upfront because that's where the announcements were made from, the front of the aircraft. Then after we finished that flight, we were going to Paris, where we were picking up, I believe, a 707 flight back to New York. She said she would feel much more comfortable making announcements on a much smaller airplane.
I agreed and, of course, didn't know it at the time, but her French accent saved my life. Anyway, we were going to the Canary Islands. It was an uneventful flight, busy. Just before we were to land about 30 minutes, the captain, Captain Victor Grubbs called me up to the cockpit and said that we were diverting to Los Rodeos Airport at Tenerife. These are the Canary Islands, which are off the west coast of Africa. There had been reports of terrorism at Las Palmas, which was the original destination.
There was a terrorist movement that had blown up a bomb at the airport. All the planes were diverted to this very small airport in Tenerife. We landed there about 30 minutes later, I guess. Basically, there was very little information. We were not allowed to disembark and go into the terminal because other aircraft had landed well before us and the terminal, which was not very big, was full at the time. We were told we had to stay on board, which was fine. It was several hours later.
There was a great deal of fog because it was early morning and the fog had not burned off. It was busy because people were restless. They were anxious. They were afraid they were going to miss their cruise. Of course, we couldn't give them any more information. We didn't have it. We just did the best we could with what food and drinks we had aboard at that point. Finally, after several hours, we were given permission to take off again. As I said, this was a very small airport. There was only one runway and the runway was also the taxiway.
We had been parked next to a KLM 747 called The Rhine. They were given permission to taxi down that runway first, which they did, and turned around at the opposite end to wait for their takeoff clearance. At some point, we were given permission to taxi down towards that KLM 747 at the opposite end of this runway. For some reason, the KLM captain had either misinterpreted or had decided to just take off. He probably misunderstood the clearance and started his takeoff roll while we were taxiing towards them.
When our pilot saw this other 747, they immediately tried to veer off the runway. As you can imagine, a 747 doesn't move very far very fast. We hadn't gotten much off that taxiway when the KLM jet decided their only option of avoiding a head-on collision was to take off. The KLM pilot began to rotate the aircraft and took off. It didn't clear our aircraft and took off the top part of our airplane. It just fell down right behind us and actually just burned up. There were no survivors on that aircraft.
Tom: You were in the first-class section of the 747?
Dorothy: I was in the first-class section by the number one door on the right side. I was talking to the flight attendant, Carla Johnson, who was working up there with me. The galley attendant, Miguel, said to me just before we started the taxiways, he said, "Dorothy, you haven't had anything to eat or drink. I think you should have something." He said, "I've just made a fresh pot of coffee," and "Do you want coffee?" I said, "Yes, I'd love a cup of coffee."
I said, "Black, please." He said, "No, you haven't eaten or had anything to sustain you in all these hours. I'm putting milk into it," and I hate milk in coffee, but he poured it in and I took it. I went back to where my jump seat was next to the right one door. I would be seated next to Carla. At that point, there were no regulations about being seated for taxiing, which there are now. We were standing there talking.
We wouldn't have gotten into our jump-seat harness before we got an announcement from the cockpit that we were about to take off. At some point, I just remember everything seemed to be moving in slow motion and things were flying around. I remember ducking. I was really very confused and then I just don't remember anything. When I came to what apparently the research and the NTSB determined was that the-- I was hit on the head by a piece of the superstructure of the airplane and knocked unconscious.
The floor gave out underneath me and I fell down into the baggage compartment. They know this from their research of what the aircraft looked like and what people were able to tell them and also because at the hospital afterwards, they found small pieces of the superstructure of the airplane. I had an apron on and there were pieces in my pocket as well. I was hit on the head and some of the debris stuck in my head.
They knew what this was because it was metal and it had a green coat on it, a paint, which was the anti-corrosive cover they put over the skeleton of the aircraft as they're building it. I woke up sometime later. I was totally confused. I didn't know where I was. It was pitch black. There was no point of orientation. I didn't know whether I was up or down. I didn't know. I could tell I was in a strange place.
I just started moving around and then, all of a sudden, I saw a pinpoint of light above my head. I thought, "Ah, I have to climb toward that. That's the outside." I was climbing and climbing and climbing. This is the baggage section, so you can imagine, it was very difficult. I ended up on the top of the front of the aircraft right behind the cockpit. It was either seating up there. In our case, it was used as a lounge area.
That would be on the upper deck of the 747. The whole top of the airplane had taken off. There were no people up there. It was just like bare floor and no seats. Nothing was left. I saw a couple of people milling around on some-- I couldn't figure out how to get back into the airplane and try to get these people back down. Finally, I just said, "We've got to jump." I remember the last person kept wandering off and it was a man.
Finally, we were the only ones left up there. I grabbed him and I said, "We've got to go now." I remember looking down and it's quite far down because the aircraft was still upright. I remember saying at my hearing that I felt like I was jumping off the second story of my house. They said, "That's exactly right. That's exactly how far it would be." Anyway, at that point, I had lost my shoes and I saw all this broken metal down below.
I kept thinking, "Oh, my God. We're going to kill ourselves jumping, trying to avoid all that metal," but we did. We had to jump. We had no alternative. Fortunately, we both cleared it. I started immediately shouting and trying to get the people away from the aircraft, which, as any flight attendant will tell you, is a main point in all of our training sessions, get away from the aircraft as soon as possible.
I started running and I thought I'd better get out and see what's going on here. I saw the other surviving crew members. There were three other flight attendants. They were all in a group standing back on the grass and I ran over to them. At that point, I was having trouble seeing and I was wiping my eyes. I thought it was blood pouring down into my eyes and congealing. I ran up to them and I said, "How bad is this cut in my head?" They said, "It isn't bad. It's just bleeding a lot."
I turned around and I started running back and they said, "Don't go back, Dorothy. Don't go back. It's not safe," but I continued and I went back. That started my work getting people, trying to convince people to not mill around, looking, talking to each other, get them as far away as possible. I felt like there would be other explosions and more fire. There was fire all around and we had just refueled.
The only place people were able to get out of the aircraft at that point was over the left wing. The wings are what hold the fuel. The inboard engine on that side was still running. As I found out afterwards, the pilot were not able to cut the power because the cables had been severed. This engine just kept running and running and I saw it was just starting to go faster and faster. I thought this is going to blow up at any minute and just set that whole wing on fire.
About that time, I noticed something white underneath the front part of the airplane where I had jumped down from. I think when I jumped off the aircraft, that's where I hurt my arm. I got closer and I saw it was one of the pilots. He was lying on the ground and it was the captain. I said, "Captain, we have to get out of here. Can you move? Are your legs broken?" He said, "I don't know. It just feels so cool here in the grass. I want to stay." I said, "No, we got to get out."
This was right in the middle, underneath the front part of the airplane. I grabbed him and I turned him over. I pulled him under his arms and ran backwards with him to try to get a safe distance. At that point, the inboard engine blew up and sent all this red hot, white hot metal flying around, and I thought, "Oh, God, we're not going to survive this after all of that," and we did.
Finally, we ducked all that debris and got around it. I got him to a safe place away from the airplane on the grass. I said, "Just stay here and I'll get back to you." Then I ran back to that part of the airplane and was just encouraging people to jump down and pulling more people away that had jumped off. Even that part of the airplane off the wing, which you can slide down, is still quite a distance from the ground. These were all retired people. Most of them were retired people or then their families, but all adults.
A lot of these people were senior citizens and not used to jumping off wings of aircraft. I was able to get several people away. Finally, I did see one woman underneath that wing and was able to pull her back. She became a lifelong friend of mine. I pulled her back in the same way. When she jumped off the wing, she fell and people jumped on top of her. As a result, she had a broken hip and a completely smashed foot and I believe a broken leg as well. Anyway, I said to her, "I will get back to you."
Now, this went on. I don't remember how long that it was, but I remember at one point looking at my watch and seeing that it was still moving. I was thinking, "Wow, after all of that and my watch is still working." I wish I could remember the name of the watch because it would be a good advertisement for that company. Anyway, I ran back and continued with getting as many people as possible. People were knocking on the windows. I kept motioning to them to go backwards to where there was obviously an opening over the left wing.
The doors were unusable because, at this point, the whole aircraft, I guess, had been bent in a way that the doors were not usable. Certainly, slides were not usable, which would be the normal emergency exit. This continued until there were just no more people coming out, so Bob and I continued to-- Cars and ambulances started to arrive. We just kept getting as many people as we could into these cars and vans and they would go off to a local hospital.
Tom: Bob is the first officer?
Dorothy: Bob was the first officer, yes. Finally, there were no more people. There was only this lady, Beth Moore, who I said would become a friend of mine. She was still on the grass. There was this man who was walking around and all of his clothes were torn. His pants were only held on by belt loops and a belt, but the rest of his clothes had been completely torn off.
At this point, Bob and I got together and said, "There are no more people that we can help here, except these few people that were left. Let's walk around the other side of the airplane and let's make sure there's nobody over there," so we did. We walked around the airplane and came back. At that point, a van had pulled up and some of the airport workers came on. Well, what I wanted to say was, at this point, there was not any fire control. I never did see a fire truck. Some of the airport workers helped me get this lady. She never screamed, but she was obviously in pain and kept moaning.
I could see by her face, she was in terrible-- I just assumed the worst that there were broken bones and I said, "Get her as flat as you can and put her across the middle seats of this van." She can't sit up. I said, "You have to lay her down." At that point, I grabbed this other man who had been walking around with his clothes in tatters and put him into the front seat of the van. At that point, Bob said, "Okay, I will get whoever's left into the next car or transportation that was available and meet you at the hospital." We were satisfied that absolutely no one else could get out at that point or would get out.
Tom: At this point, you're still bleeding and probably in shock, correct?
Dorothy: Oh, yes, but the adrenaline had set in. When I say "adrenaline," it didn't subside until later that night. It does work. It does its job. By the way, Life magazine has a-- I believe it was a centerfold of me leaning over Beth and this man. You can see, there's just shreds of clothing left on his body. Fortunately, he was facing backwards in the photograph. I don't know whoever had the presence of mind to take photographs. These were all tourists and every tourist in those days had a camera. There were no cell phones with cameras. Fortunately, some people, while they were waiting, took pictures. Otherwise, there would be no photographs of this activity.
Tom: We are going to take a short break from Dorothy's interview for a moment and discuss the other Pan Am crew members. There were a total of 16 Pan Am employees on board Clipper Victor. Nine were killed in the crash and nine survived. Of those killed was galley attendant, Miguel, who was responsible for the first-class lounge on the upper deck. Dorothy mentioned Miguel earlier as the gentleman that made her a cup of coffee just before the crash.
She sadly remembers him climbing the spiral staircase in the moments just before the horrible accident. It is important and appropriate to say the names of each of the Pan Am crew members that died on that terrible day in March 1977 on Tenerife island. We remember them and all of the other KLM and Pan Am victims of this terrible tragedy. Linda Freire, a veteran Pan Am flight attendant and now co-founder and board chair of the Pan Am Museum Foundation, will read the names.
Linda Freire: We remember them. Francoise Colbert de Beaulieu Greenbaum, purser. The flight attendants, Mari Asai, Marilyn Luker, Christine Ekelund, Sachiko Hirano, Miguel Torrech Pere, Carol Thomas, Aysel Sarp Buck, Luisa Garcia Flood.
Tom: Let's take a listen to a 1996 interview with Robert Bragg from the documentary program called Black Boxin the UK and Survival in the Sky in the United States. Unfortunately, Captain Bragg passed away in 2017 at the age of 79.
Narrator: The co-pilot on the Pan Am jumbo was Bob Bragg. It's the first time he's been back to Los Rodeos since that Sunday in 1977. 20 years later, bits of his planes still lie all around.
Robert Bragg: When we landed here, the entire ramp was completely and totally congested. There were probably 20 to 30 airplanes that has also diverted and were parked here, which necessitated us having to go way down to the end here and park.
Narrator: The Dutch pilot, Captain van Zanten, was getting restless too. His plane was parked alongside the Pan Am and the American pilots could hear him constantly on the radio, anxious to be on his way before he ran out of flying hours.
Robert: He was very irritated about the situation as I'm sure all of us were because most of us had been flying all night long and we were all anxious to get to our destination. Basically, about that time, he decided to start refueling. Concurrent with that, they opened up the airport at Las Palmas. The engineer and I got out and walked and measured the wingtip clearance between the KLM 747 and our 747. We found out that we were about 12 feet short of being able to get around him and taxi out. We had to wait for the KLM airplane to refuel.
Narrator: As the Pan Am entered the runway, clouds began to roll down from the surrounding hills. The American pilots soon found themselves inching through the dense mist looking for their turnoff. By now, the KLM pilot had already reached the far end, turned, and was anxious to be on his way.
Robert: The tower called us and asked, were we off the runway? I said, "Negative. We're still on the runway, but we will report clear of the runway." We looked up and we saw the KLM airplane's lights. I immediately saw the lights shaking and I said, "I think he's moving." It was very obvious that he was moving, so I started yelling, "Get off, get off." The captain turned the airplane, went to full power on the throttles. As we were turning, I looked back out of the right window. I couldn't believe it that he was doing what he was doing. I'll never forget I saw the rotating beacon underneath the belly of the airplane. I closed my eyes and ducked.
Robert: I didn't even think he'd done us any damage. It was very little noise, very little shaking or anything. When I looked up, it was obvious that he had done us a lot of damage. The windows were completely gone. I looked back to the right. The right wing was on fire. I looked back to the left and the entire upper deck lounge was gone. We had 28 people up there and there was nothing left. It looked like someone had taken a big knife and just sliced the entire top of the airplane off. I could see all the way to the tail of the airplane.
I reached down to try to shut off the engines with the start levers, which controls the fuel to the engines. That didn't do any good. Obviously, all the controls were severed, then I reached up to get the fire control handles which is up top, which shuts the engines down. That's when I discovered that the top of the cockpit was gone. I looked around. There was no side of the cockpit left, so I stood up and elected to jump over the side, which was about 48 feet.
Tom: Now, let's hear from Pan Am flight attendants Joan Jackson and Suzanne Donovan from a 2016 program called Mayday: Air Disaster. Note that Suzanne speaks first followed by Joan and then Bob Bragg.
Suzanne Donovan: Yes, normal circumstances. You're supposed to wait for a command, but it was clear. You didn't need to wait for a command in this situation.
Joan Jackson: There was fire and I shouted to Suzanne, "Fire on the wing."
Suzanne: She ran back to my exit-
Joan: -and saw Suzanne standing there getting ready to open the door and just saw the door crumple like cheap tinfoil and I thought, "Oh, my God, we're trapped."
Suzanne: I was staring at the door and I yelled, "Unfasten your seat belts. Remove your shoes. Leave everything. Come this way." As I stared at the door, a jagged hole seemed to open up in the roof over the door.
Joan: The next thing I knew, I was outside. I don't know how I got out there.
Suzanne: Joan was standing there yelling, "Suzanne, take my hand."
Joan: I was standing above the level of the door on fuselage rubble pieces. I leaned down and said to Suzanne, "Give me your hand."
Suzanne: She grabbed me out with one hand. I don't know how she lifted me.
Joan: Then we were standing up almost on top of this airplane and I thought, "It's really a long ways down. If we jump, we're going to break our legs."
Suzanne: We were on debris. It was like ice flows, big chunks of fuselage moving all around.
Joan: The engines were starting to disintegrate already. We could hear them disintegrating and throwing metal.
Suzanne: I lost Joan's hand very quickly, so I jumped. It seemed like the leap from a second-story building.
Robert: The captain, he elected to jump down in the first-class section of the airplane. When he hit the first-class floor, the floor collapsed and he fell down into the cargo area. It was so hot that the oxygen bottles exploded and burned him very badly as a matter of fact.
Suzanne: It's hard to call what we did in evacuation. It just seemed to be people got out where holes were provided. It all seemed a matter of total luck.
Robert: The entire left wing of the airplane was covered with passengers. It turned out, there were probably 45 to 50 passengers out on that wing.
Suzanne: In the debris, you knew there were trapped passengers and people. There was absolutely nothing you could do to help because the airplane was collapsing in on people.
Joan: Only one door was opened by a crew member and that was one of the Black flight attendants who did that. She lost her life when the engine disintegrated and debris hit her. I thought if we could just walk around to the other side of the plane, we would find all of the passengers and our other fellow crew members, which, of course, wasn't the case.
Robert: When I got out on the ground, I could hear people screaming and yelling and all. Within about five minutes, you heard absolutely nothing. There was no noise at all, just the airplane burning. I asked one of our medical directors later on what had caused that. He said that when you have a fire that hot and that much of a fire, it consumes all of the oxygen in there and people basically suffocate.
Joan: I felt so responsible because I couldn't take care of my passengers and so helpless in looking back and knowing that there's nothing you can do. You can't get back in the aircraft. There's no way to get in it and it's all on fire.
Tom: Here's another clip, this time from a 2011 program called Aircraft Confidential.
Robert: I went up and I started yelling at them for jump and they did. Everybody just came straight off and hit a large group on the ground. One man, I noticed, grabbed a lady by the ankle and just started running as fast as he could. Turned out later that the lady that was being drugged across the ground was the wife of the man that was pulling her. When she hit, all of the other people hit on top of her and broke her back, both arms and both legs. No one got out of the airplane past row 33. The reason for that was when KLM hit us, he severed his landing gear into our airplane. As a matter of fact, they found the main landing gear in our wreckage.
Suzanne: I think that was our first thought. It was a bomb and we were astonished when someone pointed out that there was another plane down the runway and fire. We had no idea.
Narrator: In the chaos of the aftermath, rescue workers never made it to the Pan Am site in time to aid injured survivors.
Suzanne: I recall walking around to the passengers who were on the ground, who had been able to evacuate, who were clearly injured, and trying to lean down and reassure them, I'd say, "Don't worry. The ambulances are coming. Help is on the way. The emergency equipment will be here soon." Meanwhile, we never saw any emergency equipment. We never saw ambulances or fire trucks.
Robert: What had happened was when KLM hit us, he sawed his landing gear, exploded, and hit 1,500 feet down the runway. His site was posted to the tower that ours was. The tower called both of us and couldn't get any recurring communication. At about the same time, an airplane in the holding pattern right above the airport called the tower and said that he saw fire and wreckage on his runway. The fire trucks and ambulances come out and they get to KLM first. This is why no one came out to our site. About that time, the center fuel tank of the airplane, which is located right under the wing as it joins a fuselage down in that area, the center fuel tank exploded and shot a flame probably 200 or 300 feet up into the air.
Suzanne: It strikes me as very ironic that if there was fire equipment there trying to put out the fire at KLM if only they'd known there were potential survivors at our plane that if they'd been able to get there, it might have helped.
Tom: Here is our final clip from the 2016 Mayday: Air Disaster program talking about how victims were taken to hospitals.
Suzanne: It was personal vehicles, cars, and trucks that seemed to come onto the grass and gather up people.
Robert: About 75% of our surviving passengers got to the hospital in taxicabs.
Tom: Now, back to our interview with Dorothy Kelly, telling her riveting and heroic story of survival and helping those in need. At this point in her story, she and First Officer Bragg were disappointingly satisfied that there was no one else that could be helped and it was time to leave the crash site. Dorothy was accompanying the last two remaining injured passengers to the hospital in an airport van.
Dorothy: Anyway, we took off at breakneck speed. This driver was doing his best to get to a hospital as fast as possible and kept throwing on the brakes. I am on the floor holding this woman on the seat with one arm and my other arm was around the neck of the man sitting in the front seat, trying to keep him from falling forward. This is all pre-seatbelt days. The first hospital we went to, we couldn't stay. They said there was no more room. They were inundated. We took off again and had to go to another hospital where we were able to stay.
I got out of the van and people did rush out. I said, "We need a stretcher for this person, this woman." I grabbed this man who was in the front and directed him down the corridor into the-- this was at the emergency room or section of this hospital, and saw to it that Beth got onto a stretcher, which happened very quickly. She kept saying, "Don't leave me. Don't leave me." I said, "I won't but I have to see about other things here, and I will come and check on you," which I did all through the next few hours at the hospital.
They wanted me to sit down, and they said they would get to me. Now, all of this was in Spanish. I wasn't fluent in Spanish, but I certainly spoke enough to be able to understand and try to get my point across at times. I kept saying to whoever wanted me to just sit there and be quiet, I said, "I'm a stewardess. I have medical training. I can help. I can help. I'm a stewardess." At that point, we were not flight attendants yet.
I was able to help. The nurses kept giving me chores and different things to do. I remember at one point, a doctor came by and he said, "Come with me," and we went into a nearly dark room. There were, I think, four or five people in there, all lying down, and they were all burned victims. He said, "These are all people who've been burned very badly. We have to take their clothes off and pull as much skin as you can off them." At this point, these people have been burned very badly, and there were just strings of skin hanging off their bodies.
Tom: My God.
Dorothy: Yes. I can remember pulling and trying-- Of course, I found out afterwards the medical staff had not given these people much medication because they needed to know about their medical history before they could medicate or do something or treat them because, again, I said most of these were senior citizens, and more than likely they have some medical issues. They couldn't heavily sedate these people. I can just remember the calm of these people, and of course, they were in terrible shock. I worked there for a long time doing this and trying then to-- I had a big pair of scissors to cut the clothing and then cut some of the skin off.
At one point, I can remember the doctor calling me. This woman had a gash in her head, and all of a sudden it started bleeding, gushing out of her head. He tossed me a lot of bandages and said, "Just hold it as tight as you can." That didn't stop the bleeding. I called them again and I said-- He took at small pair of scissors and just jammed it into her head and he said, "Now twist this and hold it." It was a very primitive tourniquet but the best he could do at that point, I guess. It did eventually stop the blood flow. This was the kind of thing I was under, working the conditions that I was working in.
Tom: Let's talk about you for a second during all of this. Are you on automatic right now? Do you understand what's happening, and what are you feeling and thinking right now?
Dorothy: Oh, yes, I understood what had happened, but I thought the aircraft had been bombed because of the situation at Las Palmas, where we were originally supposed to land. I thought somehow these terrorists had gotten to other airports. I didn't know. I had no way of knowing, at that point, that it was another airplane that had caused damage and not a bomb until I got to the hospital. I got together with the other crew members, and we were able to piece some stuff together. I was just in-- as I said, I gear adrenaline mode. That's the only way I can describe it.
Tom: Your training kicked in?
Dorothy: My training kicked in immediately. I can't say enough for-- Especially during this last two years, we've seen a lot on television of problems with passengers on aircraft to object to just a simple thing like wearing a mask. They can't even follow directions that far. I just look back at our training, and I don't think flight attendants were ever accepted for the reason we are on board, which is safety. We're not originally on board to serve passengers drinks and meals and look nice. It was for safety that we were originally and always on board.
That is a federally mandated regulation. The federal government tells airlines how many flight attendants, the minimum number of flight attendants per seat. I believe that's how it's allocated, the number of seats. I don't believe we were ever accepted. That's the downside of being a flight attendant.
Tom: You're at the hospital, just survived this terrible tragedy. You probably still need medical attention yourself, and you're-
Dorothy: I do.
Tom: -kicking into automatic. Your training kicks in, and you are helping this overwhelmed hospital. When did you finally stop and let someone help you?
Dorothy: At one point, after I finished in this room with the burn patients, I was directed by somebody. A nurse or a doctor came to me, and I believe it was a nurse, and said the rest of the crew were all in a separate room. She brought me in there and she said, "We have to give you an inoculation." That's where I finally met up with the rest of the crew who were all seated in this room.
She gave us all a shot. Then I went out again, left the room and went back. This nurse said to me, "I need help with English." Then she handed me a roll of tape and a scissor and said, "I need you to identify as many of these people as possible." She directed me towards the worst at first because in case they fell into unconsciousness, they wouldn't know anything about them. They wouldn't know their name or medical history. She said, "Just get as much information if you can and jot it down and [unintelligible 01:09:31] this piece of tape on them."
I did that for a while, and that's when I first realized that I was hurt, that my arm was hurt because I'm left-handed. I found it was more and more difficult to write on this tape where I was labeling these people. I had a lot of trouble. I ran back to the room where the crew was and I said, "I need help out here." Carla got up and came out. I said, "Carla, I could use you. I can't write anymore." We went around to all these people and finished all the information we could get from them and labeled them.
At that point, a nurse came up to me and said-- by now everybody knew my name, and said, "Dorothy, okay, now it's your turn." I said, "No, I'm fine, I'm fine. I just have a cut on my head." She said, "No, you're not fine." They rolled up my sleeve. I said, "My arm is hurting," and that's when they rolled up-- I had long sleeves on it. They rolled up my arm and there was a bone sticking out. They immediately got that fixed up and plastered and wrapped it tight around my neck, which drove me crazy.
Tom: You helped all of these people for however amount of time.
Dorothy: It was about three hours that I worked at the hospital. Like I said, my watch never stopped.
Tom: During all this time, you have a broken arm with a bone sticking out. That's incredible.
Dorothy: Well, I had so much blood all over me from what I was doing and from my head wound. After they fixed the arm, they said, "We're going to send you up to radiology because we have to find out what's wrong with your head." They did put some stitches into my head and stop the bleeding, but it had mostly congealed by then, the blood. As you know, head wounds bleed a lot. It didn't really concern me. In my head, I said, "I have a head wound, it's going to bleed a lot."
Anyway, they put me in a wheelchair and wheeled me up to radiology. I saw that Beth Moore was in the room next to where they put me. I can remember her being there and hearing her scream, just outrageous screams. They were resetting her hip. I can't imagine what kind of pain that would cause. I immediately jumped up out of the wheelchair, and somebody grabbed me and said, "No, no, you can't go in there. You can't go in." I said, "I know her and I want to be with her."
Anyway, all during this time while I was downstairs in the emergency area, I kept trying to speak to as many people as I could in English because all they heard all around them was Spanish. I kept thinking, "Oh my gosh, these people must be so confused." They were inquiring about their relatives and people who they were with and where were they. How were they, and where were they, and what was going to happen to them? I tried to just stay calm and speak with many people as possible in English. I remember that distinctly that I thought, "This is what I would like to have if I were in this situation, and a friendly American voice so I would know what's going on." A lot of the staff didn't speak much English.
Well, anyway, so they x-rayed me, and they found out that I had a skull fracture. I was wheeled back to the emergency room. When I arrived there, the rest of the crew were leaving and going to a hotel, except for Bob Bragg, who stayed in the hospital, he had a broken ankle, and of course, the captain. The rest of the crew were going to a hotel, and they said, "Come on, Dorothy. We're going to the hotel." I got up out of the wheelchair, and some doctor came along that I had been working with. He said, "No, Dorothy, you can't go. You have to stay. We need you for observation because of your head injury. You can't go with the crew."
Carla felt sorry for me, and she said, "Dorothy, I'll stay with you." She did stay with me during the next few days when we were at the hospital. After that, I was wheeled up to-- They had evacuated the maternity ward and put all of these people up on the same ward on the same floor. They had put Carla in a separate room. They were almost all private rooms.
Some nurse came along and she felt sorry for me. She said, "Okay." She said, "I have a plan." She left the room and she came back wheeling a bed and said, "I'm going to put your friend in the room with you." Carla and I were able to share a room which was very good therapy, I guess, for both of us, especially for me because I had somebody to share this with and talk about it. There was no such thing as fatigue setting in and the adrenaline was still rushing.
Tom: When did the gravity of the situation hit you?
Dorothy: That night, this nurse finally said, "You haven't had anything to eat. I'm sure you're hungry." She brought us a tray of sandwiches and hot chocolate and fresh oranges. From then on, I think I began to relax and unwind. We started talking and talking and talking. We talked most of the night. I can remember we both kept going to the bathroom. I can remember one which was unusual. I can remember at one point Carla's saying to me, "I guess that's what's called scaring the shit out of you." We were able to laugh over that. At that point, I realized that any motion of my muscles in my face or head was excruciatingly painful.
By the next morning, I didn't recognize myself in the mirror. My face was so swollen. My eyes were nearly shut. I had two huge black eyes and bruising all over my face. It was just astonishing to look in the mirror and not recognize yourself. If I had looked at a lineup of people, I would never have said that's me. That's how badly my face looked or how bad my face looked. Anyway, it was during that night that we started to unwind and discuss what had happened.
Tom: What was Captain Grubbs' condition?
Dorothy: He was badly burned. I believe both of his arms were just totally bandaged where you couldn't use your fingers. The next day, Carla and I said, "Okay, we can't just sit here in bed. These are still our passengers. Let's find out what's going on."
I went out and I said, "We should visit Captain Grubbs first because he must be feeling just terrible thinking he killed all these people. We have to let him know it wasn't his fault." We did. We visited Captain Grubbs' room first, and we're able to talk with him. He was coherent. At that point, Bob Bragg was there, and the captain and Carla and I, and we pieced together-- Basically, we found out what we could from the pilots' point of view and piece together what had happened.
Anyway, he was very badly burned. I can remember looking at him and thinking they had done all of these treatments on his body and his lips were cracked to the point where they were bleeding. They've done all of this work on him and he's in a hospital and nobody thought to put something on his lips. I went back to my room. I always had a Chapstick in my clothing. I got my Chapstick, and I put Chapstick on his lips. He said, "Oh, I was waiting for somebody to do something like that." That became my chore for the next few days.
Anyway, the crew got together for meals. The food in the hospital was wonderful, which really surprised all of us. Bob Bragg was given the job to cut up my meat, my food, because I couldn't cut my food. I just kept complaining about how tight this was around my neck. They had tied up my arm, so I was absolutely miserable.
We went around, Bob and Carla and I, and we talked to whatever people we could get into and who were alert and awake. We got to know people on a first name basis. I think they really appreciated that there was an American that they could talk to and understand because, as I said, there was just Spanish around them all over all the time. Very few of the staff spoke English, or if they did, it was wasn't fluent English.
Then I can remember the next night, in the middle of the night, a nurse came in and she said, "Dorothy, your father's on the phone." I can remember thinking, "My father?" I haven't heard from my father in years. I don't even know where he is. I got up, and she got me all dressed up in a robe and tied the robe around me for modesty's sake and brought me out to the desk in the hallway. This man said to me, "I'm so sorry that I had to bother you." It turned out he was a reporter from The Boston Globe.
Tom: Oh, no.
Dorothy: I just lit into him, and I gave him some not very nice thoughts that I had and--
Dorothy: He deserved every bit of it. Calling in the middle of a night, he was well aware of a time zone change, well aware of the fact that I was in the hospital, there was something wrong with me. I just had no time for him, and I gave him a piece of my mind.
Tom: That's terrible.
Dorothy: I hope he's never forgotten it.
Tom: Yes, I hope he doesn't.
Dorothy: Yes, it was. As a result, at that point the media started arriving from Europe and from America, and they got into the hospital. Then when they were stopped coming in, they dressed like doctors and nurses, and put on white coats and jackets, and posed as medical staff.
Dorothy: It got so bad that the nurses finally put quarantine signs on the crew rooms so they wouldn't come in and bother us.
Dorothy: Anyway, the days passed and finally, three days later, representative from Pan Am for my department arrived, and Jeff Kriendler, who was the vice president of the department that would handle media coverage and publicity and such for the airline. We have remained friends through the years. They were able to get a medevac plane to carry the passenger from the hospital to hospitals in the States.
Time was of the essence because burns have to be dealt with correctly from the very beginning. The people with the worst burns were sent to a burn center in Texas. I spoke with people there for several months afterwards, while they were patients there. Their treatment just got awful. I can't imagine to have to go through this treatment every day. It's so painful. I don't know how burn treatment has changed since then, but I'm sure a lot of it is still the same.
Anyway, they were able to arrange for this military plane to evacuate these people, but then they ran into problem because nobody had passports. The government required passports to leave the country. Somehow Jeff and the powers that-- they got together and worked out a solution, and they were able to arrange for these people to be taken back to the States. I can remember Carla and I standing, and I thought I would be going back to the hotel because the crew was not going back because we had to be interviewed by the NTSB and the FAA and, of course, Pan Am management team that they sent. That was all going to take place at the hotel.
Carla and I watched from the fourth floor window where we were, and we could see-- When they brought Captain Grubbs out on a stretcher, these people just surrounded him. We could see that some of them couldn't get close enough, and they stuck microphones on extension poles right up to his face while he was being wheeled out to transportation to take him to this aircraft. I thought these people just never give up. They had no compassion. Some of them. Anyway, at this point, the Pan Am medical director had arrived, and he wouldn't let me go to the hotel. He said, "We have to keep you under observation for a few more days."
I believe I spent two more days at the hospital and went back to the hotel. At that point, both the staff at the hotel and the Pan Am people who were there realized that it was going to be difficult for me because they immediately rushed out and tried to question me. They realized that this was going to be a problem for me. Somehow, the staff said, "Okay," and they brought me back to the service entrance, and we all went upstairs into the hotel through the service elevator. That's how I traveled through the service elevator up and down for the next few days.
I can remember getting to my room and thinking, "Oh my gosh, this looks like a funeral parlor." There were so many flowers in my room. They kept arriving.
Dorothy: More flowers kept arriving, and there was no place to put them. I remember finally filling up the bidet in the bathroom with water, and it was full of flowers.
I went to meetings with the NTSB and the FAA and, of course, the Pan Am people. Their team was there. I can remember them. The only thing I can remember them saying to me was, "Are you a nurse?" I said, "No." They said, "Do you have medical training?" I said, "Only what Pan Am gave me, which is basic first aid, really. Maybe slightly more than that, but that was all." Finally, they were able to let me go down in the evening to the bar where there was a lot of activity. By then, the media had calmed down considerably, and I was able to go to the restaurant to eat instead of having a tray in my room.
A few days later, a church service was organized. I remember us going out to a cathedral, and there was so many media there that when they rushed the car, and I could-- They said, "No, you can't get out here." They made a plan, and they got the tallest men that were there from all of these groups and took the crew around to the side entrance. I can remember being lost in the middle of the sea of very tall men as we walked into the cathedral. They sat on either side of me and behind me during the whole service.
I think that's when reality started to hit, and I realized the enormity of what had happened. We were beginning to learn numbers, and the fact that nobody on the KLM plane had survived, and how many people had survived. Word was trickling in from the other hospital and from the hospital I had been in about how many survivors there were.
Tom: What was going through your mind when you've--?
Dorothy: I was still confused, and I thought, "How could this happen?" I understand accidents do happen. We still weren't sure of the facts because we didn't have facts until much later from the KLM group, until they had to give testimony, and we found out what had happened on board their aircraft. The pilots of the KLM plane were running out of duty time. Apparently, that's when the captain just said it's now or never. I guess they didn't want to spend another night in Tenerife.
Also, before we left the hospital, Carla and I were able to go to visit. I asked the nurse, I said, "There are people we haven't seen yet, and I know I was with them in the emergency room." She said, "Oh, yes, there is an area where we have them, the burn victims." They're kept in a dimly lit area of the hospital. Well, the rooms were dimly lit, and it was very cool. They would let us go, and they got us all dressed up in gowns and masks and booties and caps. We were covered like mummies. We did go and talk with the other people that I had come across, and some of them that I had worked on in the hospital, especially this one woman with the gash in her head.
I walked into a room and I heard this voice say, "Do you have my rings?" I walked over, and it was the woman I was working on that had this gash in her head in that room. She was in the burn unit. I had taken her rings off, and I said, "I'll put them in my pocket, and I will keep them for you," because we were taking the skin off her hands. Then the worst part of the skin removal was when you got to the nails. It wouldn't pull off, and you had to cut the skin off-
Tom: Oh, my.
Dorothy: -around the nails. It was just so gruesome. That's when I started thinking I've done all these terrible things, but I'd never thought about it at the time. You just do what's necessary. Somehow, the adrenaline and your training kick in and you don't think about what you're doing. That's basically what I was left with trying to think and sort out for myself. I had done what I did, and what others did was just our training setting in.
Tom: Let's talk about the friendships that were formed and the bonds that-- in this terrible tragedy. You mentioned one of the passengers that you would later [inaudible 01:34:18] with. You also mentioned some of your crew. Can you speak to [inaudible 01:34:23] that?
Dorothy: Yes. This woman that I had pulled out from underneath the wing, she and I became lifelong friends. She died about-- I'm not sure how many years ago. Within 10 years. Now, she was in her 60s at that point, and she had been recently married. Her first husband had died. This man she met was a very well-known rear admiral of the Second World War and a much decorated soldier or sailor.
She was in the next room of mine to the hospital. I can remember going and feeding her because the nurses were busy, and they didn't have time to feed people. She had been so badly burned that she couldn't also feed herself. I would cut up her food and help feed her when she had trouble eating, and we just became friends. She lived in California. We had so much fun together even though there was this enormous difference in age. I just felt very close to her. We had a lot of good times together.
I remember at one point when she was-- a couple of years later, maybe two years later. She didn't have any children, but she had raised a nephew. He was a minister at the Presbyterian Church in Mount Kisco, New York. He had arranged for a meeting in the church, and what he said, "We're here to honor the woman who brought my aunt home." I had to get up and give a little speech. I remember everybody applauding afterwards, and I was so surprised because I had never heard or experienced applause in a church before. That was one pleasant side of the aftermath.
As I said, I enjoyed many, many years of a wonderful friendship with this woman until she died. That was the only real friendship I developed out of that. Although I did keep in touch in writing, calling, and writing letters to a few of the people that had been at the burn center. After that, a few years later, we lost touch, but I never lost touch with Beth. Anyway, I have this wonderful-- called the Good Samaritan Award. It says for Dorothy Kelly who through her life of courage and love has survived the question, "Lord, who is my neighbor?" from the people of the Presbyterian Church of Mount Kisco, New York. That's up there with several of the awards I received, probably my favorite.
Tom: That's wonderful. Thank you for sharing that with us.
Dorothy: Pan Am sent us 707 to pick up the crew members and the media and all the people that were going back to the New York area. I was living with my husband in New Hampshire at the time. We were put up at a hotel in New York by Kennedy Airport. The first thing I wanted to do was to see Captain Grubbs, and see how he was doing. They arranged to take me to the-- I believe he was in a hospital in New Jersey. I'm not sure about that.
I went to the hospital and saw him. His family was there. I found out that he had had a granddaughter, and somewhere in her name is the name Dorothy. That was also very endearing. Now, Bob Bragg kept in touch. Of course, my husband was also a Pan Am pilot, so they knew each other. He lived in New England as well. We would see each other every once in a while, but not very much socially, but just kept in touch. I kept in touch with Bob Bragg for many years.
Tom: How did Tenerife change you?
Dorothy: Well, it made me much more aware of how important our training was, first of all. It made me a lot less tolerant of passengers who only wanted a pretty face to serve them a drink or a meal. I'd never bought into that. I always took the job seriously.
Tom: Well, Dorothy, I want to thank you very much for sharing your stories. I know that talking about Tenerife is difficult. I very much appreciate your time. Any closing thoughts that you'd like to [unintelligible 01:40:25]audience.
Dorothy: I hope that the remaining employees of Pan Am and friends of Pan Am still keep together. I belong to a philanthropic group of former Pan Am flight attendants called World Wings, and there are chapters all over the world. We get together for each chapter locally for meetings and parties and social gatherings. We also collect money for charities and have donated lots of money to different charities around the world. I'm very much a big part of-- always been a big part of World Wings.
I just hope that groups that you've become affiliated with, like the Pan Am Museum, will continue to survive and have an interest in what was a groundbreaking airline from the get-go. From the days where they first started out traveling in the Pacific and opening up routes in the Pacific and landing where there were no runways or airports. The whole evolution of Pan Am was worthy of notice.
Tom: Thank you very much for sharing your story, Dorothy. I really appreciate your time. I know it was difficult to share some of your memories. I would like to make an editorial comment to our listeners here and say that not all superheroes wear capes. You, Dorothy, are a true hero. Truly, you are a hero. You were injured with a compound fracture in your arm and a head wound but that didn't stop you one bit. You worked tirelessly for three and a half hours after the crash as a triage nurse helping as many people as you could. That is true heroism. That is true bravery. You are a hero in my book, and I'm honored to be talking to you.
Dorothy: Thank you, Tom, for your interest in Pan Am.
Tom: We're going to conclude this special memorial episode with a recording from April 26, 1977 at the memorial service on Tenerife for the 583 victims of this terrible tragedy.
[01:44:19] [END OF AUDIO]