HomeScienceFifty Years Later, the Orphans of Flight 723 Return to the Scene

Fifty Years Later, the Orphans of Flight 723 Return to the Scene

At the age of 58, Michelle Brennen found herself confined to her house during the coronavirus pandemic. During this time, she couldn’t help but think about the worst thing that had ever happened to her. Back when she was 10 and on summer vacation, she discovered her mother crying in the archway between the kitchen and the living room. One of her siblings informed her that her father’s plane had crashed, but she didn’t fully grasp the severity of the situation. She thought they were referring to one of her father’s model airplanes and didn’t think it was a big deal. Little did she know, this event would shape her life in unimaginable ways.

In 1973, when adults rarely discussed death with children, Michelle’s father was buried and the children were not allowed to attend the funeral. The school’s guidance counselor briefly checked in with her, to which Michelle responded that she was fine. Perhaps due to the lack of closure and processing, the memory of the plane crash lingered in Michelle’s mind.

Years later, after her mother passed away in 2021, Michelle uncovered a cardboard box in her mother’s basement containing everything related to the flight, Delta 723. The box contained newspaper clippings, legal correspondence, and journal entries. As she started reading through the materials, Michelle became engrossed in the passenger manifest, particularly curious about the children that may have been left behind by the crash victims. She wondered about their lives and set out to find them. Using her iPad, she reached out to survivors one by one, connecting with them through social media and phone calls. Michelle hoped to create a space for shared stories and experiences, exploring how traumatic loss can shape a person’s life and whether sharing grief can provide healing.

The culmination of her efforts took place on the 50th anniversary of the crash, when Michelle, now 60 years old, gathered around 200 people at Logan Airport. She had successfully located survivors for all but four of the 89 individuals who were aboard the plane. Though they were mostly strangers, they came together to commemorate the tragic event that had forever altered their lives. The chosen location for the gathering, Logan Airport, held symbolic significance as it was close to the site where Flight 723 had caught fire.

The crash itself occurred when the plane was descending through thick clouds near Boston. Something went wrong in the cockpit, and despite attempts to correct the course, the plane overshot the localizer beam and descended too quickly. The crew had been misinformed about the weather, and their flight director was malfunctioning. Ultimately, the plane collided with a concrete sea wall, resulting in a devastating impact and the shattering of the aircraft.

At the time of the crash, Michelle was not allowed to attend her father’s funeral and felt a sense of guilt and responsibility. She held onto the unforgivable thought she had muttered to herself the night before the crash but never shared it with anyone. Over the years, she occasionally believed she saw her father in crowds and held onto the hope that he would come back. Her father, Michael Longchamp, was a 39-year-old draftsman who loved the outdoors and had served in the Air Force. He was known for his calm and gentle demeanor.

In the aftermath of her father’s death, Michelle’s family closed ranks, and her aunt moved her family back to Vermont to provide support. Her mother, Patricia, kept herself busy with responsibilities and chores, unable to sit and grieve alone. Michelle acknowledges that her family coped well and moved forward, but the impact of the crash remained a significant part of their lives.

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