Five years after she buried her brother, Terry Welch is coming back to Lexington to honor him again.
Michael Ryan and 48 other people died on Aug. 27, 2006 when Comair Flight 5191 attempted to take off from the wrong runway at Blue Grass Airport. At 10 a.m. Saturday, five years later to the day, a memorial sculpture in their honor will be unveiled at the University of Kentucky Arboretum.
For Welch, who lives in Massachusetts, it's important to gather with her six remaining siblings — two of whom will be traveling from the family's native Ireland — and the 400 other friends and family members of victims expected to attend the event.
She knows it will be hard, but she wants to see artist Douwe Blumberg's sculpture of 49 birds flying toward the heavens.
"I've seen the blueprints and I know the monument will be gorgeous," she said. "I think it's a fitting tribute to the 49. I love the fact that the birds are heavenward bound."
Welch and her siblings will also visit their brother's grave at the Lexington Cemetery, and a bench at Ecton Park that a group of his Irish friends in Lexington had placed in his honor.
"Even five years later, we're brokenhearted," Welch said.
The Saturday ceremony will provide family members and the public their first full look at the statue, which was chosen several years ago by the Flight 5191 Memorial Commission — a group that includes both family members and Lexington residents.
Other overseas attendees include Machiko Kono, the mother of Tetsuya Kono, who worked at the LBX corporation in Lexington. He and his wife, Nahoko, were traveling to Yosemite when the plane crashed. Machiko Kono is arriving from Japan. She will attend the memorial service, then attend a private ceremony at LBX later that day.
Kono is bringing a hand-carved Buddhist figurine that she will bury at the base of a cherry tree that LBX employees planted at their headquarters off Leestown Road shortly after the crash.
"It will be very quiet and nice," said LBX spokeswoman Amy Maddox. "We felt like we needed to do something special."
The Arboretum event will begin with short speeches from Gov. Steve Beshear, Mayor Jim Gray and Deborah Hersman, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, who was the lead federal investigator at the crash.
The statue is scheduled to be unveiled about 10:40 a.m., organizers said.
Attendees will also see a copy of the banner that was put up at Blue Grass Airport after the crash, which became covered with messages from people throughout the community.
The original banner will be displayed at a private reception for family members after the ceremony. Staff at Blue Grass Airport are making the frames on which the banners will hang.
Both banners — the copy was made for preservation purposes — have been stored in Ray Garman's spare bedroom for several years. Garman, a doctor, former member of the airport board and co-chair of the Flight 5191 Memorial Commission, said he wanted to make sure both banners survived.
"They're pretty spectacular because of all the reminiscences people wrote on them," Garman said.
Members of the commission have been working hard for the past five years to create an appropriate memorial, and to raise the $350,000 needed to commission and maintain a memorial sculpture.
"It's the end of a long road," said Scott Lanter, director of public safety and operations at the airport, and a commission member. "I'm glad to have been a part of it, and just like that morning, I wanted to do all I could to help the family members who were so adversely affected by the accident."
Family members chose Lanter, along with Mary Fedorchuck of Hospice of the Bluegrass, Fayette County Coroner Gary Ginn, and Charlie Boland, who was a liaison to then Mayor Jim Newberry's office, to perform the unveiling of Douwe Blumberg's sculpture.
"When they asked me, it was one of the most humbling moments of my life," Lanter said.
Fedorchuck said Hospice received a grant from the United Way to provide long-term help to the victims' families with services such as counseling. She believes the sculpture will provide more healing for the families.
"I'm incredibly honored they've asked me to do this," she said. "It's a beautiful sculpture, it's so serene and its setting is so peaceful ... just having a place like this is healing."