It has been 27 years since Linda Wiggs lost her son in a plane crash at RDU airport.
He would have been 40 years old on Feb. 14.
It was a Friday night, Feb. 19, 1988, and she had taken her son, Christopher Bage Wells, who was 13, to the airport to visit his father in Richmond. The flight was 28 minutes long. “Bage” as his mom called him didn’t normally fly to Richmond but that night was a special night.
By the time she got to her Garner home, he would call because he would have just landed. But Linda Wiggs never got the call from her son and ex-husband. Instead she got a call from her sister, who saw on the news that there was a plane taxiing off the runway which flew into some trees. She raced back to the airport to be with her son.
After lying on the airport floor for hours waiting to hear how her son was doing, she was called into a room, where airport officials broke the news to her, that it was, indeed, her son’s plane that crashed and there were no survivors.
“I collapsed in the airport and they called rescue and took me to the hospital,” Wiggs said. “I literally wanted to die. I could not imagine a day without him. Being his mom for those 13 years, he was the greatest joy I ever had.”
The plane took off from the runway but the pilot made an improper turn, crashing moments later into the Brier Creek Reservoir along Aviation Parkway, killing all on board.
The next few days after the crash were much of a blur for Wiggs. She couldn’t go back to work. She fell into depression. The death of her only son had taken a toll on her.
“I don’t blame her, because obviously she lost her life too, but it shouldn’t have happened,” Wiggs said of the pilot.
Another American Eagle Flight, Flight 3379, crashed nearly seven years later several miles out of RDU airport. The flight was coming into RDU. Fifteen people died that night, but five survived. The parents of one of the survivors, along with a former American Eagle pilot and the Family Assistance Foundation are raising money to build a memorial, that they hope will provide peace and remembrance for the victims of the crash.
The memorial will be at Carpenter Park in Cary, on the corner of Morrisville Carpenter Road and Louis Stephens Drive.
The group is trying to raise $75,000. Most of it has been raised.
Wiggs learned about the memorial after reading an article in The News & Observer that ran in Feb. 4 issue of the The Cary News.
“I immediately got on the phone and tried to get in touch with somebody and reached a couple of people,” Linda Wiggs said.
The memorial will consist of two long black walls aligned in the flight direction of each crash. There will be five trees in the middle, representing the survivors, and more trees ringing the back, for those who perished.
“I was so excited because as any parent knows who has lost a child, your greatest fear is that your child will be forgotten,” Wiggs said. “And this just helps assure me that he will not be forgotten and that he is still touching people’s lives.”
Wiggs has given about $5,000 to the fund toward the memorial. A groundbreaking will be held March 24. They hope it will be complete in February 2016 and will have the dedication on the day the plane crash.
“That is something that I’ve always wanted to do, but never knew how to go about doing it,” Wiggs said.
A ‘well-liked kid’
Bage was a well-liked kid his mom said. He had many friends. He liked to play football.
“I always thought he was mature beyond his years,” Linda Wiggs said. “But in reading what teachers and coaches responded, the thing they all said was that he was a genuinely polite, good kid. He was very enthusiastic and he loved life. He even loved computers and they were not big back then.”
Every day on his birthday, Linda Wiggs and her current husband, Brian Wiggs, go out to dinner and eat Bage’s favorite meal. Hamburgers and french fries.
Those are good memories, Linda Wiggs said.
But the anniversary of his death is always the hardest.
“Grief is the hardest work you’ll ever do and if you keep it inside,” Wiggs said. “It manifests itself in physical ways. “
The couple try to go to the beach ever year during the anniversary week.
It helps her feel closer to God and to Bage.
“The first few years I would just collapse,” she said. “I just couldn’t deal with it.”
Linda and Brian met four years after Bage’s death, while she was still in a grieving parents support group. He learned a little more about what she was going through and how she must be feeling. But he understands he’ll never really know how she feels.
“I have two daughters that are one year younger and three years younger than Bage,” Brian Wiggs said. “I told her later I started thinking about it... about how that must be to a parent, and I couldn’t go too far down the road of thinking about losing my kids before I had to shut it off.”
Linda Wiggs said she got through those tough times through her faith in God. And the members of her church were there for her. Inside the church are two stained glass windows in remembrance of him. At East Garner Middle School, there also is a memorial with his name on it by the flag pole.
But the memorial that will go in Cary will be bigger. Something even more people will see, so they’ll never forget.
Want to donate?
Donations can be made through Family Assistance Foundation Inc. by mail at 555 North Point Center East Suite 400 Alpharetta, GA 30022. It should be marked to Flight 3378 and 3379 memorial.