PART THREE: THE RESCUE
We were in the middle of the Everglades - at midnight.
By LUISA YANEZ
...continued from part two
Robert "Bud" Marquis was gigging frogs in his airboat with an out-of-town friend on the serene Everglades when he heard the roar overhead of a large commercial plane.
Marquis looked up and saw an explosion. "It was like a mushroom cloud but it died quickly," he said. "I told my friend: Keep an eye on that spot, and we headed out there."
Some 15 minutes later, Marquis and his friend arrived at a surreal scene.
"There were people screaming for help everywhere, dead bodies floating face down, some naked with just shoes on. I tried to help as many as I could," said Marquis, who still lives in Homestead.
Marquis, 78, a former Everglades game warden familiar with its hidden watery pathways, directed rescuers unfamiliar with the terrain to the crash site and a nearby levee where choppers could land. And he gave hope to the survivors.
"When we heard his airboat, we knew we had been found," Raposa said.
But Marquis could do little. By 12:30 a.m., no one had been airlifted. The crash site proved problematic, reacheable only by airboat or chopper. The only firm ground: Levee 67.
Coast Guard Petty Officer Don Schneck arrived on a chopper out of Opa-locka Airport and took a ride from Marquis into the belly of the crash.
"Everything I saw was a shock, like taking a hit from a cattle prod. The things I came across were eerie," he said, his voice trailing off during a telephone interview from his home Rogers, Ark.
"As I'm walking, I hear a man's voice yelling: I walk over to him. It's a man in a suit, without a scratch on him."
"Are you from the plane crash?" I asked him. "He said, 'Yes.' He just looked so out of place. I told him to stay where he was and wait for help."
Then Schneck came across his first dead victim. "I had to make a decision: I chose to help those who needed it. I kept walking," he said.
Next, Schneck remembers coming up to the cockpit and hearing muffled noises. He found two flight attendants, Adrianne Hamilton and Sue Tebbs. Neither was seriously injured, but they were trapped.
Schneck could hear voices coming from inside the cockpit, which was tipped to a 45 degree angle.
He finally made his way in and found Capt. Loft alive and lying over the control panel.
"I need to get out of here," he told me. He was afraid he was going to drown or the plane was going to blow up.
"I assured him the water was not deeper than where I was standing and he seemed to calm down. I told him help was on the way and to hang on."
Schneck then found Stockstill and determined he had died on impact. He realized there were two men in the hell hole below -- it was Repo and Angelo Donadeo, an Eastern employee who hopped aboard the flight to attend a Grateful Dead concert in Miami.
Repo was in tremendous pain and couldn't be moved. "When I went to help Donadeo, the reaction surprised him. 'Get away from me,' which I did."
Schneck kept looking at the Miami skyline for helicopters.
He made his way back to the pilot. "He looked me straight in the eye and said. 'I'm going to die.' I put both my hands on his forearms and said: 'You're gonna make it.'"
The captain died before rescuers arrived. Other crew members killed: First Officer Stockstill; flight engineer Repo and flight attendants Stephanie Stanich and Pat Ghyssel, 27.
In the remote section of the crash near the tail, Raposa gathered passengers and split her attention between them and Ruiz, hurt and stranded feet away. "I have to go help the others," Raposa told Ruiz. "Promise to come back."
Raposa wiped away the muck on her wings pin -- so she could be identified -- and went back to work.
"I felt that these poor people were still my responsibility," said Raposa, who credits her faith and Portuguese background for her spunk.
Raposa gathered up airline seats and set up a sitting section in the middle of nowhere.
"No one knows where we are?" an anxious passenger asked Raposa.
"They know exactly where we are. They'll be here soon."
"We're in the middle of the Everglades -- what about alligators?" one passenger asked.
"Don't worry, we made such a racket landing, I'm sure they all ran away," Raposa told the group of about 10 passengers now with her near the remote tail section of the wreckage.
To calm everyone, Raposa led survivors in renditions of Jingle Bells and Frosty the Snow Man.
It would not be until 3:30 a.m. -- nearly four hours after the crash … before her group, the last out, would be rescued.
"I will never forget what Beverly did that night," said Coviello, a legal assistant at a Pembroke Pines law firm. "Some people just rise to the occasion in a tragedy. She was a true leader."
Raposa, who was among the last to be taken from the crash site, still recalls the rescue team was led by her boss, Frank Borman, the former astronaut who was then an Eastern vice president.
"He saw my wings and asked me: 'What happened?' I said 'Colonel, I have no idea. We had absolutely no warning.'"
Borman handed his leather bomber jacket to the freezing Ruiz, who used it to wrap the baby boy she had been holding for hours.
Watch an animation of the last few minutes of the flight before the crash.
See photos of the rescue team pulling the survivors from the plane wreckage and the newspaper headlines during this time.