• BREAKING NEWS ABC shows live and on-demand -- Download the WATCH ABC app!

Plane crash victim families honor anniversary

January 28, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Preparations are under way for the 10th anniversary of the crash of Alaska Airlines Flight 261 into the Pacific Ocean off the Ventura County coastline.Eyewitness News spoke with relatives of some victims in an exclusive report on their story of hope and inspiration.

For the victim families, it's been years of counselors, lawyers and NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) hearings.

On Sunday, 300 relatives will gather. Some so heartbroken, they have never attended a memorial before. But there is a flip side to the stories of loss. It's what some families achieved through their pain.

"This of course is the Ryan family. Terry and Barbara and Pat and Jim," said Jay Ryan, who lost four family members.

His brother and sister-in-law and his nephews are gone. Jay Ryan is reminded by every photo, and not just of his family.

Eighty-eight passengers and crew crashed into the ocean off Port Hueneme on Alaska Airlines Flight 261.

"It wasn't an act of god, it wasn't a storm, it wasn't bad directions from the tower. It was simply a mechanic who had failed to perform a very vital function," said Ryan.

The mechanic failed to maintain a critical screw on the back stabilizer, according to the NTSB -- a shocking oversight, to Ryan.

Adding to the horror, Ryan and his wife Madeline were almost victims too.

"As a matter of fact, we missed the flight," said Ryan. "We were supposed to go."

Ryan could not let go. And so with other victim families he worked on a memorial and for safety reforms.

More than 30 NTSB recommendations were implemented.

Today Alaska Airlines says it is sorry for the accident and enumerates layers of new safety measures.

The airline released a statement: "Each of our operating divisions also has its own quality assurance program, which is monitored by an independent internal evaluation process," wrote Caroline Boren, Alaska Airlines managing director of communications.

As Ryan's family prepares for Sunday's 10th anniversary, they are mindful that it could have been worse.

It was evident as belongings were fished from the water. There was a camera, and a photo of loved ones, a family as tight as they come.

"It's the saddest thing and also the best thing about my brother's family is that all four of them went together. Had there been one left behind, it would have been terrible," said Ryan.

And so Ryan turns now to the good borne from tragedy.

"We hope that we have improved airline safety to a slight degree. And they don't have the personal involvement, but we will always remember our loved ones for the sacrifice they made," said Ryan.

We will always remember our loved ones for the sacrifice they made."

The public memorial will take place in Port Hueneme at 3 p.m. Sunday.

Friday, we meet a couple who looked deeply into the tragedy and found miracles. We bring you their exclusive story of inspiration Friday on Eyewitness News at 4 p.m.