Comair 5191 memorial will be sculpture of 49 silver birds in flight

jhewlett@herald-leader.comJune 4, 2010 

The design of the Memorial for Flight 5191 by renowned sculptor and Kentucky resident Douwe Blumberg will feature a 17-foot foot tall sculpture of 49 stylized silver bird figures which will sweep heavenward in a rush of energy and movement. The number of birds represents the 49 people killed in the Comair crash. The sculpture will be placed in the Remembrance Gardens developed by Hospice of the Bluegrass, at the University of Kentucky Arboretum.

Silver birds sweeping into the sky — 49 of them, each representing one of the lives lost in the August 2006 crash of Comair 5191 — are to adorn part of the Arboretum in Lexington.

The birds are the major component of a sculpture that is to be a memorial to the crash victims and a tribute to those who tried to save them.

A rendering and three-dimensional model of the memorial were unveiled at the Arboretum on Alumni Drive Thursday afternoon. The memorial will be in the Arboretum's Remembrance Gardens.

"It's very uplifting," said Sue Byrd, a member of the Flight 5191 Memorial Remembrance Committee, which has been working to come up with a suitable memorial for more than three years. Byrd is the mother of Brian Byrd, who died in the crash.

Although committee members include representatives of several entities such as Hospice of the Bluegrass, the Red Cross, United Way of the Bluegrass and the University of Kentucky, the final decision on the project was made by those who lost loved ones in the crash.

The committee solicited and evaluated about 50 artistic renderings before selecting one submitted by sculptor Douwe Blumberg, who lives in Northern Kentucky.

"As a family member, it means a lot to have this memorial at this location that is so beautiful and serene," said Matthew Snoddy, son of crash victim Tim Snoddy and a member of the committee, at the unveiling. "I'm proud, thrilled and very happy to have him as our artist."

Blumberg's sculpture will be 17 feet tall and have a base that will include the names of the crash victims and a tribute to the first responders. The birds, each of which will be about six feet in diameter, will be made of aluminum or stainless steel.

Blumberg, who was at the unveiling, said his vision of what the memorial should look like came from God.

"I just had this vision of souls being set free," he said.

Blumberg, who has created pieces for actor William Shatner, Budweiser, the ambassador of Bahrain and several cities, including San Francisco, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City, said he was honored to be chosen as the artist for the Flight 5191 memorial.

"It has become probably the most meaningful thing I've done to date," he said.

One of the unique aspects of the sculpture is that permanently sealed inside each bird will be a stainless steel canister containing tokens of remembrance. Plans are for members of the victims' families to place the tokens inside the sculptured birds during a private ceremony.

The memorial remembrance committee is also thinking about adding a reflecting pool at the site.

"We have enough cash, I think, to see this to the end," said Dr. Ray Garman, co-chairman of the committee. Garman, who wouldn't say what the project is expected to cost, said several individuals and organizations, some of whom want to remain anonymous, have contributed to the project.

Although the committee might have enough money to complete the project, a statewide fund-raising campaign to ensure perpetual maintenance of the memorial is being planned, Garman said. Contributions for the memorial may be made through the Blue Grass Community Foundation, he said.

Blumberg said he doesn't know when he will start sculpting the memorial, but committee officials said their goal is to have the memorial completed by the fifth anniversary of the crash in August 2011.

Comair Flight 5191 crashed after taking off on the wrong runway at Lexington's Blue Grass Airport, killing all but one on board.

Reach Jennifer Hewlett at (859) 231-3308 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3308.

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