A Tribute: To the Lives Lost in the Sabena Flight 548 Disaster

On March 24, the ISU decided Moscow would host the 2011 ISU World Figure Skating Championships as Japan continues to recover from the repercussions of a tsunami and nuclear crisis. It’s a sigh of relief for many of the figure skaters and coaches who trained all-year long for this moment.

At the Worlds in Toyko, Japan, there were plans for a celebration, of sorts, to commemorate the 50th annivervary of the loss of in the entire American figure skating team killed aboard Sabena Flight 548.

In 1961, the Worlds were to be held in Prague, Czechoslovakia, known now as the Czech Republic.
In Canada, our team brimmed with the likes of Donald Jackson, Donald McPherson, Wendy Griner, Maria Jelinek, Otto JelinekVirginia Thompson and William McLachlan.

Jackson was the 1960 World silver medalist, as were the Jelineks in pairs, as were Thompson and McLachlan in ice dance. The Worlds in 1961 was touted as a changing of the guard after the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics in the United States, since many of the top figure skaters entered the professional ranks. This could be the break out year for the Canadian team.

While our team was tried and tested, a new crop of eager bright figure skaters were emerging south of the boarder, ready to take to the world stage.

After a very successful United States National Championship, the states was about to send one of their strongest contingents to the Worlds. Their team consisted of Robert Dineen, Bradley Lord, Gregory Kelley, Douglas Ramsay in the men; Laurence Owen, Stephanie Westerfeld and Rhode Lee Michelson in the women;
Ila Ray Hadley and Ray Hadley, Jr., Laurie Jean Hickox and William Holmes Hickox and Maribel Owen and Dudley Richards in the pairs; and Diane Sherbloom and Dallas “Larry” Pierce, Donna Lee Carrier and Roger Campbell, and Patricia Dineen and Robert Dineen in dance.

The team, along with their parents, coaches and siblings, didn’t make it to Prague for the World to find out. And the Worlds were cancelled out of respect for the tremendous loss.

It would take a few years of rebuilding, and healing, before the Americans were ready to get back to the powerhouse they once were, and for others to realize the potential within.

Sometimes it takes a tragedy to inspire the greatness in us all.