Airline CEO thanks emergency workers

Posted: Thursday, May 04, 2000

VENTURA, Calif. (AP) -- The chairman of Alaska Airlines thanked emergency workers Thursday for their efforts in the Flight 261 crash, which killed 88 people, and defended the company's reputation.

''Caring is very important to Alaska Airlines because we have five core values: Alaska spirit, professionalism, integrity, resourcefulness and caring,'' said John Kelly, who also is the company's chief executive officer.

Kelly spoke to about 500 people at a prayer breakfast sponsored by the Ventura County Salvation Army. The event was organized partly to honor emergency workers who responded when the Alaska MD-83 plunged into the Pacific Ocean on Jan. 31.

Kelly did not comment on various investigations of the airline, including a criminal probe, a federal grand jury's scrutiny of maintenance practices, and the National Transportation Safety Board's effort to determine the cause of the crash.

Investigators have focused on a mechanism that controlled the horizontal stabilizer on the MD-83, which went down on a flight from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to San Francisco.

A sheriff's video showing crash victims' relatives visiting a beach near the crash site and helicopters dropping flowers in the sea brought tears to the eyes of many assembled at a hotel where the prayer breakfast was held.

Michele Blake, a nurse who saw the airliner plummet from the sky, said she attended the breakfast to help her cope with nightmares she's had since.

''A prayer closure like this with the community was just what I needed,'' she said.

Kelly said the 10,000-employee airline was profoundly grateful to the search-and-rescue workers and was still struggling to cope with the pain of the crash.

''Caring about and helping people is the soul of Alaska Airlines,'' he said.

''I will never, ever forget your random acts of kindness, your caring and your compassion. I thank you from the bottom of my heart,'' Kelly said.

Salvation Army officials said Kelly volunteered to attend the prayer breakfast as a way to help himself and the community heal from the tragedy.

''He's been very emotionally involved in this. He wants to see the healing take place,'' said Richard Jimenez, a member of the Salvation Army's advisory board.

Police and sheriff's officials said plans are under way to create a permanent memorial to the crash victims. Flowers, crosses, letters and other items left on a beach near the crash site have been saved for use in the permanent memorial.

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