Mourners remember 1994 Hopewell crash

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For the family members and friends left behind when USAir Flight 427 slammed into a green hillside in Hopewell, 15 years has done nothing to fill the ragged hole of loss.

Lorraine Hapach lost her son, 33-year-old Gary Hapach, in the crash that killed all 132 passengers and crew members on Sept. 8, 1994. She will always have an empty place inside her that cannot heal, she said.

"It's a piece of you that's gone," said Ms. Hapach, fresh tears filling her eyes as she sat with her daughter-in-law -- Gary's wife, Barbara -- after last evening's memorial service at Sewickley Cemetery. "You carry him under your heart for nine months, and then it's gone."

Family members of the crash victims have gathered at the memorial site, where the unidentified remains of victims are interred, every year since the crash. Every year, organizers say, they see the faces of new family members and friends come to honor the dead and seek solace from the living, along with the many familiar faces of those who have become their friends.

Last night, many of those faces turned upwards just after 7:03 p.m., the moment of impact, to inspect a cloud-studded blue sky much like the one from which their loved ones fell 15 years ago. A few people took pictures of that sky.

And many of those faces were streaked with tears and twisted with pain as a roll call of the dead was read. After each name was called, family members and friends from the crowd of about 50 walked forward and placed a white carnation on the stone memorial. Some touched it briefly with their fingertips, leaning forward with their heads bowed and their lips moving in memory and prayer.

This year was more difficult than many, said Donna Weaver, who lost her father, Lee Weaver of Upper St. Clair, in the crash.

As unbearable and as horrible as the crash and its aftermath were, they made her keenly aware of the blessings in her life -- of all the good things her father and his influence brought to her life and her family's life, Ms. Weaver told the crowd. But the passage of 15 years has somewhat blunted her sense of the blessings while leaving the pain sharp.

"Over time, as the impact of the crash wanes a little bit, those blessings are still there, but maybe not right there like they would have been," Ms. Weaver said.

She needs to regain her focus on the blessings in her life, she said.

"They're always there," she said. "God has never left me alone."

Like the others, Marilyn Morris of Wilmington, Del., is still learning to live with the remnants of life she was able to salvage after her son, 35-year-old Chad Morris, died.

Before the accident, she said, her life was like a beautiful vase that she loved to admire. It had a few cracks -- the loss of her parents, her in-laws, her brother -- but she could turn the cracks to the wall and almost pretend they weren't there, she told fellow mourners.

When Chad died, the vase of her life shattered, its shards falling to the floor, some lost and irreplaceable. She was angry with God, she said, and demanded in vain that he put her life back together.

"I learned something important -- I am his servant, he is not mine," she said. "And with his help, I have crawled around picking up the pieces. ... Like all of you, this is the only life vase I have, so I'm learning to love this ugly vase."

Amy McConnell Schaarsmith can be reached at 412-263-1122 or .


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