Crash of Flight 5191

At hotel, volunteers work to help crash victims' friends, families

People inside and outside Lexington's Crowne Plaza Campbell House offered any help they could yesterday to relatives of the 49 people who died in the crash of Comair Flight 5191.

"Nothing really prepares you for this. The outpouring of people's hearts has been what has carried everybody through," said Gerry van der Meer, general manager of the Harrodsburg Road hotel.

As the designated "care center" for friends and relatives of crash victims, Crowne Plaza Campbell House has become the focal point for assistance. Comair and its parent company, Delta Air Lines, have set up command centers with about 100 crash-response employees trained to listen to relatives and attend to their basic needs, such as food and flight arrangements.

"These are volunteers who are trained extensively. They come in and work with these families to work through this period," van der Meer said. "I'm very impressed with how organized they are, and they're very personable in working with the families that are coming in."

The airlines have invited victims' extended families to stay at the hotel. Delta is picking up the cost for the hotel stay and is pairing a Delta care volunteer to each family.

Lexington Mayor Teresa Isaac was at the hotel at 5:45 a.m. yesterday "because she wanted to come in and speak to families. She's shown a very sincere concern," he said. He didn't know any other details about that visit.

Relatives of crash victims have a private dining area where food is out round the clock "so they don't have to worry about going out to a restaurant," van der Meer said.

Representatives from the Japanese consulate general's office in New Orleans are at the hotel to assist relatives of Nahoko and Tetsuya Kono, a Japanese couple who died in the crash. The couple had moved to Lexington 18 months ago, and were starting their trip to Yosemite National Park on Flight 5191. Relatives from Japan are scheduled to arrive in Lexington tonight, van der Meer said.

The National Transportation Safety Board held a briefing at 10 a.m. yesterday to update families on what was happening in the crash investigation. About 250 people attended that session in the ballroom, including 100 or so Delta and Comair employees. Van der Meer said he did not attend.

Two ambulances were dispatched to the hotel after that briefing because one grieving woman felt weak, van der Meer said.

The woman did not require treatment and was not taken from the hotel, he said. "She was very weak from the emotional loss."

"There's a great deal of grief and sadness of people in the hotel, but the responsiveness of Lexington continues to shine through," van der Meer said.

"We had people offer to bring flowers in, to bring food," van der Meer said. "We had one church call in to say they would offer all their vans. We had a tent company call to say they would offer tents for any memorial service."

A nearby Rite Aid pharmacy offered toothpaste, deodorant and other items.

While those kinds of offers are appreciated, they should go through United Way of the Bluegrass, van der Meer said. Those calls should be directed to either 233-4460 or 313-5465.

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