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Victims of Gander Plane Crash Remembered

December 9, 1990

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (AP) _ About 175 relatives of Fort Campbell soldiers who died in a 1985 plane crash gathered Saturday to mark the fifth anniversary of the disaster, which was the target of congressional scrutiny last week.

A House Judiciary subcommittee concluded Wednesday that the federal government should review Canada’s findings in the crash at Gander, Newfoundland, which killed 256 soldiers on a flight home from a six-month Middle East peacekeeping tour.

During Saturday’s observance, the honorary commander of the regiment the victims served said relatives should concentrate on rebuilding their lives rather than dwell on the circumstances of the crash.

″It has been five years of sorrow and healing and remembering. Let’s keep it in perspective and continue to rebuild our lives as we have done since that tragic day,″ retired Col. Robert E. Jones told the crowd in Gander Memorial Park, which is dedicated to the tragedy.

Jones said military service often means facing danger, such as members of the 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell are confronting now in Saudi Arabia.

″The way of the soldier and his family is often hard and fraught with danger as evidenced by the present deployment of our military forces overseas,″ Jones said.

Jones was selected for the honorary post by the regiment’s troops before the Dec. 12, 1985 crash but did not accompany the unit on its peacekeeping mission in the Sinai Peninsula.

The House Judiciary subcommittee on crime heard testimony last week on a possible terrorist link to the disaster. The panel concluded that Canada should turn over its investigative reports on the crash to the FBI while the National Transportation Safety Board analyzes the cause of the tragedy.

FBI agents were barred from the crash scene and the NTSB embraced Canada’s findings about the cause without consulting the chief U.S. investigator who looked into the disaster, according to testimony before the panel.

A Canadian panel had concluded that the military charter plane probably went down because of ice on its wings. The Canadian findings have been challenged by other Canadian investigators, several congressmen and families of the victims who suspect terrorism as the cause.

But like Jones, some of the family members at the base Saturday seemed to focus more on families of troops deployed in the Persian Gulf. One was Louise Wright, who lost her 23-year-old brother, John, in the crash.

″It’s not easy,″ Ms. Wright said. ″We just have to deal with it. I feel for the families who have members over there now.″

Nearby, 248 Canadian maple trees stand in uniform rows as a reminder of the same number of soldiers who died.

Jeff Mollohan, who lost his 47-year-old father, attended the ceremony along with his wife and two children. Mollohan said the Christmas season has been an especially hard time of year since the crash.

″It’s changed a lot of things as far as what we look forward to,″ Mollohan said. ″There’s an empty void. There’s no way it can be replaced.″