Hello Portland. My name is Kevin-Michael Moore. I was born in Hollywood, California, and raised in Troutdale—and that will mess anyone up. So, give or take, I’ve spent almost 45 years in Portland, and I love this city. I really do.
I have bounced in a number of directions as to what this blog should be about and came up with this. Portland stories. Just that, stories about life or an incident that sets its feet firmly on Portland soil. So I’ll start things off with this one, and this one is an honest to god Portland event.
In 1978 my dad worked for Western Airlines (dead memory). Dad had called home to say that he was staying late at work, a plane was having trouble dropping its landing gear and it might have to make a crash landing. I turned on the news, and it was on every channel, all four of them. Flight 173 had been told by the PDX control tower to circle the airport until a suitable solution became apparent. A suitable solution never became apparent.
My father, when he chose to speak, could not be faulted for his wit, and he knew everything about air travel, and I mean everything. So I believed him every time he said arbitrary things like, (pointing to an airplane high in the sky) “See that plane, Kevin? That’s a Hughes Airwest 737 (dead memory) coming from Seattle and heading to…um…Ixtapa, Mexico.” I’m not so gullible now, but I have to say that I’ve tried the same trick on my five year old nephew, and it works.
Anyway I had gotten good at recognizing airline travel paths and was sure that my sister and I could track down flight 173 from Denver to Portland. I leapt into action. I turned to my sister and said, “We are going to find that airplane.”
And find it we did.
It’s December, it’s early evening and it’s freezing cold. I’m aboard my green metal-flaked Schwinn bike. I’m fourteen years old, and my posse (my eleven year old sister Cheri and three or four other kids her age) and I are tracking an airplane that is doomed to crash less than 200 yards in front of us.
Under the direction of PDX, flight 173 began to circle at about 5,000 feet in a triangular pattern twenty miles southeast of the airport.
We lived on 162nd and NE Everett Ct. The beast touched ground in the intersection of 162nd and Burnside.
6:15 PM we turned the corner of Everett and 162nd and were heading south towards Burnside. We suddenly spotted the big bird coming down, smack-dab into the center of our white, middle-class neighborhood (dead memory). We collectively watched in horror as the speck in the sky became a three-story building falling to earth. It was the loudest sound I’d ever heard; it was the loudest sound I never heard.
All sound was sucked away, and everything went to slow motion. I could see the panicked faces of the passengers through the windows of the plane while strobe-like cabin lights flashed on and off and the plane zoomed past us on Burnside through the miraculously empty (at rush hour) intersection, finally coming to rest near 158th St.
A wing takes out a couple of power poles, and the sound comes back. Power-lines snap on the pavement, and the big bird is gone. Things quiet for a moment; then I hear the screaming. Fourteen-year-old science tells me that the live wires are intrinsically dangerous so I tell my sister and her friends to go home. They do. I take a trail into the woods (dead memory) and watch for hours. The emergency vehicles arrive. The bodies are carried away. The injured are tended to, and I watch. Out of 189 on board, 10 die, and 24 are seriously hurt. It changed me. Lesson learned. Mortality is real.
It was the loudest sound I’d ever heard; it was the loudest sound I never heard.