Back from the Dead

Thanks to mother nature, the once mired mementos from ValuJet victims are floating to the surface

Kessler and families of other airline crash victims successfully lobbied Congress to create a special federal office for helping victims of airline crashes and other catastrophes. The bill also tightens airport security and screening procedures. President Clinton signed the bill into law last week.

Kessler worries that even the most concerned professionals can inadvertently wound the emotions of these families again and again by sending back recovered items. On the other hand, he longs to obtain his wife's property -- like her engagement ring, which presumably has been lost in the tangle. He longs to bury her remains -- a wish he will probably never fulfill. "It's all still out there in the Everglades ... we got nothing back, other than some belongings that had been decontaminated."

Robertson, whose friend's husband died in the crash, also insists that it's important to obtain the personal effects no matter how or when they arrive. "To see them, you realize you've lost someone -- it's like seeing a corpse," she relates. "On some level, it's helpful. With [this] plane crash, there's no reality; there's no crunched car."

Eventually, the Everglades will heal, promises Peterson. Vegetation will disintegrate and the muck will sink once more onto the limestone. Fresh grass will replace the burned patches. Even the birds, the flies, and the alligators will come back. Only rarely will a fragment percolate to the water's surface and signal the presence of the archive below.

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