At first, the only unsettling thing about Flight 60 was the fact that there would be no coffee served. At least, it was unsettling to Claudia Hood, a pastor’s wife from Atlanta who hadn’t had her daily caffeine fix yet.
As her son, Jason Daniel Hood, told it, this was the start of the series of unfortunate events that led up to and followed the crash in April of 1976. Jason came to Ketchikan by way of a cruise. He decided to mark his visit by sharing his mother’s memories of the incident.
A group of about 30 gathered at the Ketchikan Public Library to listen to Hood’s talk, partially titled “Telling Her Story: My Mother’s Survival, Life & Faith.”
He said his mother gave him 42 pages of notes, full of memories from the crash. Reading through the notes was emotional, he said.
“I think for the first time, I understood the fear to a whole different level,” he said. “I had heard the story so many times, it just became part of my mom’s story, but then I really understood a whole different level from her, of what it was like to be in that situation.”
Hood’s father, a Southern Baptist pastor, had traveled to Juneau with Hood’s mother for a revival. They had been married for only two years, and Hood himself was born just 14 months previously. His mother was looking forward to flying home – by way of Ketchikan, then Seattle.
“She kept thinking about the fact that she was leaving a 14-month-old baby – that would be me – back home in Atlanta,” he said.
As Ketchikan appeared below them, Hood said, something strange happened:
“They had just started their approach to Ketchikan, and my dad said, ‘This plane’s gonna crash.’”
Hood’s mother beckoned to a flight attendant, seeking reassurance that her husband was wrong.
“The flight attendant looked outside the window where my dad was sitting and said, ‘Oh my God. We’re going to crash,’ and immediately took the seat beside my mom,” Hood recalled.
His parents braced themselves for impact. Hood’s mother tried to fasten her seatbelt and realized that it was far too small – it was a child’s seatbelt. She struggled and wrestled with it, finally forcing it closed just before the plane hit the ground.
“When the plane crashed is when the seatbelt pushed up inside my mom and broke her back,” Hood said. “It broke her tailbone, her coccyx bone, up into her spine.”
It was in her notes about the immediate aftermath of the crash that Hood said he truly felt the fear she had experienced. He teared up, clearing his throat as he recalled it.
“It’s the first time I ever heard her talk about wondering if she would die immediately or if everything would collapse on her and crush her,” he said, his voice breaking. “That’s a part of the story I had never heard before until I read her notes.”
Despite her severe injuries, Hood’s mother dragged herself out of the wreckage of the plane. Soaked in jet fuel, she crawled into the creek at the bottom of the ravine where the plane had come to rest.
“And she kept thinking, ‘If my life ends today, and I go to meet my maker, I feel like I’m going empty-handed,’” Hood said. “‘I feel like my life – I haven’t given back what I’ve been given. I haven’t served God in the way I should.’ And all of these things were flashing in her mind as she was crawling down into the ravine.”
Against all odds, Hood’s mother did survive. She was taken to a hospital in Seattle, where she stayed for several weeks before returning home to Atlanta. Doctors said she would never walk again.
Once again, though, she beat the odds. Claudia Hood did walk again, and had another child, something doctors also said she would never be able to do following the crash.
Jason credited the people of Ketchikan and first responders with saving his mother and so many other lives.
He emotionally thanked those in attendance.
“Because of you, because of your actions that day, the life I’ve gotten to have with my mom, the time we’ve had…We owe a great debt to you,” he said. “And I’m really grateful to be here.”
Mary Goodwin and her late husband Walt were working at the airport when the plane crashed. She said Walt saw the plane coming in and called the Coast Guard before the plane even hit the ground.
“It just went past too fast,” she said of the plane. “So that was part of the quicker response.”
Dave and Jacquie O’Sullivan showed off the newspapers they had saved from that day and the days following. Gayle Brooks introduced her husband, Nathan, who stood guard over the wreckage in the weeks following the crash as part of the Army National Guard.
After the event, Hood said the visit opened up a whole other side of his mother’s experience for him.
“Even though I grew up with this story, I didn’t grow up with the story with so much information behind it,” he said. “There are a lot of layers to it that I didn’t know two months ago, and I didn’t even know four days ago.”
He said he’ll return home to New York and then head back to Georgia to share with his mother all that he’s learned about the crash of Alaska Airlines Flight 60.