INDEPENDENCE--Those in the fire service are family, friends and neighbors. Thirty years ago, Dennis Crocker was in his first year at the Kenner Fire Department. Neighbor Anthony Perrozzo had just signed on as a volunteer Monday, July 5, 1982.
That Friday, around 4:09 p.m. all hell broke loose. A Pan Am jet had just lifted off in New Orleans, bound for Las Vegas.
“My mom was a dispatcher at the Kenner department. She had just gotten off work and got the call. She said: come on: let’s go,” said Perrozzo.
At first, responders thought it was a small plane. “Take a ride out there, it’ll be good practice,” one senior officer told Crocker.
“When we got there it was total chaos,” he said. “If there was something similar to war, that was war.”
Glued in his mind today are images of a dog afire, fleeing his burning dog house. A Kenner police officer put the dog down.
Quickly, firefighters knew this tragedy shifted from rescue of survivors to recovery of bodies.
Only one person survived.
"The plane hit the trees and cartwheeled," said Perrozzo. The two know the story well and often complete each other's sentences. "It hit a tree 53 feet high on Williams Blvd.," recalls Crocker. "It looked like someone used hedge trimmers."
The sounds are vivid for Crocker. "It sounded like the engines were still running. It was the gas mains actually."
"The biggest piece of the whole plane was the tail section sitting on a piece of debris 20 feet high," Perrozzo recalls.
"The plane crashed right next to my Grandma Beral Crocker's house," he said. "We saved her house. Later when I walked in, my boots were full of water. Grandma started hollering at me. I was tracking up her house!"
Crocker and Perrozzo want surviving family members to know how respectful the recovery was conducted back then. Back then, Civil Defense units helped. That has given way to Homeland Security at national level and many parishes, such as Tangipahoa.
Along with the smells and noise of this tragedy, the firefighters remember images.
Chief Crocker remembers cash fluttering about. "The plane was headed for Las Vegas," he says. Water was blood red.
There are other daily reminders of this national tragedy, the second worst in US history at the time.
One reminder is the 1981 Mack fire truck that the Independence Fire Department recently acquired from the Kenner FD.
It's the truck that Crocker trained on as a rookie over 30 years ago. They both have come a long way.
NEXT: What Crocker and Perrozzo teach their fire service staff and volunteers since that tragedy 30 years ago.
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