Lloyd Waters: Where are heroes when we need them?

January 28, 2012|By LLOYD WATERS

Seems like every channel on the television last week had a picture of the capsized Costa Concordia cruise ship lying on its side off the Tuscany coast. 

As of Thursday, the death toll from the incident stood at 16, and there were 22 people still officially missing. More than 4,200 passengers were on board the ship.

The ship’s captain obviously failed the course on “how to be a hero” in his training class. According to reports, he was one of the first people to abandon ship.

Why exactly some people act in an heroic fashion for the greater good while others avoid individual sacrifices has always intrigued me.

As I watched this event unfold, I thought about another tragedy that occurred on Jan. 13, 1982.

While working at Maryland Correctional Institution on that day, I caught a glimpse of a news report coming across the television.

Air Florida Flight 90 was taking off from National Airport in D.C. when it crashed into the 14th Street Bridge and broke into pieces in the frigid waters of the Potomac River.

Do you remember?

Severe cold weather and snow swept the State of Maryland that day. 

As the broadcast continued, the pictures showed a few survivors amidst the floating debris. In fact, six passengers survived the crash and were either in the water or hanging on to broken pieces of the plane.

A helicopter was dispatched to the area and was on the scene within minutes. It could be seen dropping a rescue line to survivors below.

Reports indicate that the first to be hauled up from the tail section of the plane was a man.

When the rescue line was dropped to the next man in the water, he gave it to a surviving stewardess, who was hoisted to safety.

The helicopter then lowered two lines, and the man again passed them to others.

That man’s name was Arland Williams Jr., a federal bank examiner from Georgia, who was one of the six surviving passengers. He remained unselfishly in the frigid waters while assisting others to safety.

When a large piece of the tail broke off and went into the water, the current it created pulled down Williams, who died so others might live.

What makes a person want to do good for others while putting their own life in peril during these events? Whatever this virtue might be called, Williams possessed it.

How many people would do that?

Maybe the captain of the Costa Concordia could have benefited from studying the 14th Street Bridge incident.

One of the survivors, a woman who had lost her husband and baby in the crash, lost her grip on the rescue line and was close to drowning.

A passerby who had stopped his car, witnessed her desperation. He decided to jump in to that icy water, swim to the stewardess and rescue her from the wreckage.

His name was Leonard “Lenny” Skutnik. He made a quick decision to leave the warmth of his vehicle, abandon the safety of the shore and make a leap into the cold water to save this woman in distress.

He left his comfort zone of life to assist someone he didn’t even know who was in harm’s way. He, too, possessed this virtue of courage.

Williams and Skutnik should be remembered always for their unselfish valor on this day. 

The 14th Street Bridge has been renamed the Arland Williams Jr. Memorial Bridge in honor of this man’s bravery.

Maybe the captain of the Costa Concordia should visit this memorial bridge to learn how real heroes are supposed to act.

Lloyd “Pete” Waters is a Sharpsburg resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

The Herald-Mail Articles