Survivor

Carmen Rivera-Worley swam away from the plane crash that killed her daughter. Now she wonders how many more will die before the FAA acts to prevent similar accidents.

From the backseat of the single-engine airplane, Carmen Rivera-Worley watched uncomfortably as the 25-year-old pilot tapped his finger on an illuminated blue instrument. Raindrops streaked the plane's windows as it raced at about 120 mph through a blanket of ink-black clouds west of New Orleans.

Then, Rivera-Worley and the two other passengers heard pilot Bryan Scott Taylor say, "I've got an instrument failure."

Taylor's artificial horizon, a device that tells a pilot whether the aircraft is flying with wings level or banked, suddenly didn't seem to be working properly. He tapped it again.

Carmen Rivera-Worley somehow managed to free herself from the wreckage of this single-engine Piper Cherokee after it slammed into the murky waters of Lake Pontchartrain and sank in about 20 feet of water. Three others, including Rivera-Worley's daughter, died in the crash, which was caused by the failure of a vacuum pump.
Carmen Rivera-Worley somehow managed to free herself from the wreckage of this single-engine Piper Cherokee after it slammed into the murky waters of Lake Pontchartrain and sank in about 20 feet of water. Three others, including Rivera-Worley's daughter, died in the crash, which was caused by the failure of a vacuum pump.
Rivera-Worley visits her daughter Sarah's grave in Denton.
Mark Graham
Rivera-Worley visits her daughter Sarah's grave in Denton.
Bryan Scott Taylor, shown here with his son Blake, was qualified to fly a plane on instruments alone--provided the instruments were functioning.
Bryan Scott Taylor, shown here with his son Blake, was qualified to fly a plane on instruments alone--provided the instruments were functioning.
Jerry Taylor and his wife, Trudy, lost their son Bryan when the plane he was piloting suffered an equipment failure that may have been preventable.
Jerry Taylor and his wife, Trudy, lost their son Bryan when the plane he was piloting suffered an equipment failure that may have been preventable.

"See?" he said, noting the condensation under the glass. "But that's OK. I can land with these others."

Suddenly, with a roller coaster's stomach-wrenching force, the airplane fell into a dive. Taylor banked hard, pushing Rivera-Worley against the airplane wall. The rest of the instruments, the ones that literally could tell Taylor up from down while flying blind, are out now, too, he announced. The airplane banked forcefully.

Without instruments and in zero visibility, the passengers and pilot had no point of reference. Taylor and everyone else on board became disoriented. It felt like they were climbing. It felt as if they were falling. For a few seconds after a hard turn, it seemed they were recovering. Then they dove again, hard. Taylor couldn't control the airplane. They were going to crash. The other backseat passenger next to Rivera-Worley, John Scott, unbuckled his seat belt and leaned his head and shoulders into the cockpit offering Taylor help.

Rivera-Worley also leaned forward, suddenly sick with fear. She laid her head against Scott's back and extended one arm in front of him so that she could hold onto Sarah, her 17-year-old daughter, in the front right seat. The airplane continued to buffet violently. Rivera-Worley held onto her daughter's arm. Sarah glanced back and looked into her mother's eyes, acknowledging the gesture before putting her head down. Rivera-Worley's mind raced. She prayed to herself hysterically.

"Oh God, please don't let this happen. Please come to our help...Don't let us die like this. Don't let us crash and burn. Don't take my baby daughter...Anything but this."

They didn't know it, but a vacuum pump installed in the 1969 Piper Cherokee 16 years before had stopped working. It powered two important instruments Taylor was using to keep the airplane level and pointed in the right direction. The sky around him was as dark as the swampy, expansive Lake Pontchartrain below. He needed those instruments, the artificial horizon and the directional gyroscope, to climb up out of the cloud cover or drop below it where he could see the ground and use his senses to level the plane and land it.

The New Orleans air traffic controller told Taylor he missed the airport. Taylor radioed that he didn't know whether he was climbing, then quickly realized he had lost control of the airplane and was about to crash. When the Piper Cherokee hit Lake Pontchartrain, the impact ripped it open. Water poured into the cabin, and the airplane began sinking to the bottom.

Rivera-Worley would first fight for her life to escape the sinking wreck and then spend hours in the water. Then she and the pilot's father would begin a fight with those they say are responsible for the crash and many other similar accidents--most notably the federal government. They say the Federal Aviation Administration has not done enough to warn the public about the danger of vacuum pump failures nor done anything to fix the problem that is known to be causing small airplanes to crash.

"Nobody in their right mind takes such risks," Rivera-Worley says. "Had anyone told me that there was a vital instrument on this airplane that my daughter and I were going to get on that can fail and is known to fail without warning, I wouldn't have gotten on the plane. Good grief."


Before boarding the aircraft on a quick trip to visit Tulane University in New Orleans, Taylor, Scott, Rivera-Worley and her daughter, Sarah, had no idea of the risk they were taking. They didn't know that the vacuum pumps that operate a small airplane's vital instruments had failed without warning hundreds of times before. Most times when a pump fails, pilots can see the topography and real horizon to land the airplane. Since 1983, however, at least 43 airplanes have crashed and 86 people have died in accidents attributed to vacuum pump failures in cloudy conditions, according to National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) records.

But on an early Wednesday evening in April 1998, when Rivera-Worley's jovial group sat at a round table at the Sweetwater Grill and Tavern in Denton, they had no way of knowing the danger. The group included Rivera-Worley, who was 44 at the time, her husband, Lee Worley, and their two children, Ernest Worley and Sarah Worley, and John Scott. Scott, 34, was a Tulane graduate, a Denton County executive and friend of the family. He was anxious to show Sarah around the Tulane campus.

Sarah was athletic, with long, thick, dark curly hair, sharp, slightly Hispanic features like her mother's and a healthy glow about her. The popular senior at Ryan High School in Denton was determined to go to Tulane despite her mother's concerns about finances.

"I said, 'You know, it's so expensive,' and she was a typical dumb-ass 16- 17-year-old and said, 'I'll just borrow the money.' 'I can't let you do that, but let's go see. Maybe they'll put more money on the table. Maybe there's more financial aid there. Let's go see.'"

Originally, the Scott and Worley families planned to drive. But on the day before they found themselves at the Sweetwater, Jerry Taylor, a family friend, invited Rivera-Worley to lunch.

"He said, 'Why don't you fly?'" Rivera-Worley recalled while sitting in the office where she works as Denton County's chief civil attorney. "I said, 'Oh God, I can't afford to fly the whole family there, to New Orleans.' He said, 'Well, what if you had a plane and somebody to fly you there?' I said that would be a hell of a deal."

Taylor said his son, a senior at the University of North Texas, was racking up flying hours as part of his plan to become a commercial pilot. A flight to New Orleans would help, Taylor said. The younger Taylor held a commercial pilot's certificate and was trained to fly multiengine aircraft. He'd flown for four years, accumulating 450 hours in the pilot's seat--considered a "reasonable" amount of experience for a young pilot. To put it in perspective, a co-pilot on a small commuter airplane would probably have to have a minimum of about 2,000 hours in the air before being hired, a pilot's association representative says.

When an airplane large enough for both families couldn't be found, the senior Taylor found one that could take three. Rivera-Worley convinced her son, Ernest, to let John Scott take his place on the smaller airplane. The trip seemed like it would be a fun getaway.

"We planned to arrive at about 10:30 and then probably go out to eat, and then the next morning we had stuff planned at Tulane all day, and then we were going to play Saturday and Sunday and come home Sunday afternoon, something like that. Sarah's birthday was Monday, so we were going to make a little birthday trip out of it."


Bryan Scott Taylor was an attentive pilot, and when it came to safety he went by the book. If he was taught he was supposed to check something before each flight, that's just what he did.

"I would have flown with Bryan anytime, anyplace," his father says confidently.

His son was qualified to fly by "instrument flight rules," relying solely on the bank of instruments in the cockpit if it was impossible to see anything out of the windows and it was unwise to trust what his senses seemed to be telling him. About half of the nation's 635,000 active pilots are qualified to fly using instruments. It's not easy, but Taylor was a skilled instrument pilot, his father says.

"I remember this one trip, we came into Lufkin late at night. Two o'clock in the morning. Pouring down rain. Cloud cover down to 800 feet, at the point of which you have a go, no-go decision about whether you can land," he says.

"We came around...lined up like so coming in for a landing. I said, 'Bryan, I can't see a blooming thing.' 'I'm right on Dad; don't worry about it.' We came down, dropped out of the clouds. As soon as we dropped out of the clouds, here's the airport, Addison airport...We popped out of the clouds at 800 feet, landed in three seconds. No time to adjust. If you're on, you're on."

On the morning of April 2, 1998, the younger Taylor drove out to the Denton Municipal Airport and inspected the bright canary yellow and pea green Piper Cherokee that he rented for that night's trip to New Orleans. He took it up for a test flight.

Sometime between 6:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Taylor's passengers arrived at the airport in a minivan. It was a beautiful, clear spring evening, and conditions seemed ideal for a flight.

"The plane didn't seem old and dilapidated or anything...It's not like the seat belts didn't work or this seems like it was falling apart. I mean, it wasn't a jet, but...I didn't have any reservations in climbing in there," Rivera-Worley says.

She and John Scott got into the back so they could share a bottle of liquor and have cocktails on the way. Sarah wanted a good view out of the front window. The takeoff was perfect, exhilarating.

"Everything was fine," Rivera-Worley says. "We were flying. Sarah was sitting in the co-pilot's seat, and she was telling me, because I had told her how I'd always wanted to learn to fly a plane, and she was like, 'This is so cool. I want to learn to fly a plane, too.'

"We were flying above the clouds. You could just see everything. The sun was shining over there, and after a while, off in the distance, you could see some lightning and flashes way off in the distance. It was a beautiful view...It was really great."

As the tiny airplane passed from the skies over Texas to Louisiana, the twilight of dusk turned to dark. The clear view of the ground also had changed. Now there were thick clouds and no clear air until you reached about 700 feet above ground. Inside the cloud cover it was raining and pitch-black. But, using what is known as the "six pack" of cockpit instruments that provide all sorts of information about the airplane's altitude, speed and pitch, Taylor could easily take the airplane down through the clouds as he'd done at other places before. He would "pop out" at just about 700 feet above their destination, Lake Front Airport. Taylor began descending.

They had been in the air about three hours when Rivera-Worley asked Taylor how much longer it would be. He told her the airport was less than 30 minutes away. Then Rivera-Worley saw Taylor tap on the blue gauge and heard him say he was having an instrument failure.

It is likely that Taylor didn't realize the artificial horizon had stopped working until he had already used false readings to "correct" the airplane. By the time he realized something wasn't right, he probably was already losing control. A New Orleans-area air traffic controller told Taylor he was off course and going to miss the airport. Taylor was clearly confused.

"Ma'am, I have a full failure at this time, and I'm climbing straight up...I hope," Taylor told the controller. "Give me a second, uh, I'm heading southbound. Give me a second to think."

He tells the controller his other instruments, those powered electrically, are out, too, and that he seems to be at 2,000 feet and in a left turn. A moment later he tells the controller he doesn't know if he's turning or not. At this point it is only known for certain that Taylor had lost two instruments and had become disoriented. Taylor probably did not believe the readings he was seeing on working instruments because he was experiencing spatial disorientation or vertigo. Because of centrifugal force, a hard bank (which would push you down in your seat) can feel to a disoriented pilot like a climb.

Although the functioning altimeter would have shown the airplane descending, Taylor, like dozens of other pilots in his predicament, might not have trusted it. Shortly after Taylor reported instrument trouble, another violent descent began.

"He started having difficulty maintaining control," Rivera-Worley says, her voice getting quiet. "It started with the sensation that you were just dropping, just dropping and the sensation that he was recovering, banking real hard...It felt like he was climbing when we were banking...He was trying to get above the clouds...but we were probably going down.

"We knew that he had difficulty controlling the plane. We just knew forever. We just sat there, one in disbelief, two in fear and in horror of what was happening and was apparently going to happen and knowing that we were likely to die."

About three minutes after hearing about Taylor's instrument failure, the air traffic controller asks another pilot flying in the vicinity about the cloud ceiling. Then the controller tells Taylor, "Cherokee One Lima Lima, I'm showing you right now east, well, you're going a, hey...and Cherokee One Lima Lima, I show you going around in circles. Sir. I can't get any definite heading on you. Um, can you give me any idea which way you are going?"

"I'm crashing," Taylor replied. "Oh my God."

"I never saw lights again," Rivera-Worley says. "It was a real, real sensation of falling out of the sky and going really fast, and Bryan didn't have control of the plane and Bryan saying I'm going to crash. There's not much hope left, and I'm sitting there going I cannot believe this is happening."

With her head against John Scott's back and with her outstretched arm she held onto her living daughter for the last time while reciting the Lord's Prayer aloud. She remembers getting about halfway through the prayer. She doesn't remember the airplane hitting the lake or the rush of cold water against her body. The impact tore the roof of the airplane down the middle between the cockpit and back seats. The plane came to rest upside down on the lake bottom in 15 to 20 feet of murky water.

"When I came to, and I was out a second, when I came to I just had this rush of adrenaline, this flight, fight or flight rush. Gotta get out. Gotta get some air. I just start pushing up, just pushing up...My right foot was stuck under Bryan's seat. I just yanked it and yanked it until I got my foot out and started swimming up.

"I got to the surface and I thought what the hell happened? My God, this is water. I thought we would crash into land. I started screaming." In the pitch-black of the lake's surface, in bare feet and suffering an injured ankle, Rivera-Worley was alone. She began treading water.


When Bryan Scott Taylor was trained to fly in blind conditions using instruments, he wore a visor that effectively blocked his view out of the airplane's windows while an instructor looked on. The visor forced Taylor to learn to judge the airplane's position relative to the ground using the artificial horizon, the directional gyroscope and the other four instruments in the cockpit instead of with his inner ear and natural instincts. Pilots are well aware that when you cannot see the ground or sky, it is easy to become disoriented and fly straight into a stall or the ground.

Because a vacuum pump failure is not uncommon, as part of Taylor's test to become an instrument-rated pilot, a tester typically would have covered the vacuum pump-operated artificial horizon and the directional gyro with a piece of paper. That would have forced Taylor to figure out his position using what's known as a "partial panel" of the four remaining instruments. The instruments that probably would be working include the turn coordinator, air-speed indicator, altimeter and vertical-speed indicator.

Near New Orleans, if Taylor's electrically powered partial panel was operating properly, he should have been able to level the airplane and get out of trouble. At least that's the theory. But in training conditions, Taylor and other pilots fly with a partial panel that they are certain is working properly. They can also see exactly when their other two instruments go "out." They don't spend time using readings from dying or dead instruments the way pilots who crashed airplanes seem to have done in real blind conditions.

It's uncertain how long Taylor "corrected" his airplane to failing instruments (that would have been illuminated and functioning by all appearances) before he realized he wasn't flying level anymore. By then, Taylor was probably already so disoriented that he didn't believe what the remaining instruments were telling him.

Vacuum pumps have no warning system, and pilots like Taylor have no way of determining the health of a pump, says an expert who testified as part of a lawsuit filed by the families of New Orleans crash victims against North American Flight Academy Inc. (the Denton company that owned the rental airplane) and Parker Hannifin Corp., maker of the pump. What's more, he testified, the effect of a pump failure on airplane instruments is slow, heightening the danger. (North American had no comment.)

The FAA insists that a partial panel represents a backup system and that a vacuum pump failure in severe conditions is survivable. But NTSB has records showing eerily similar crashes that suggest flying out of blind conditions after a failure and sudden loss of the artificial horizon and directional gyro is difficult if not impossible. Here's a small sample of crashes linked to vacuum pump failures and "spatial disorientation."

··· Baxter, California, 1992: The pilot says he has an "unusual attitude" (artificial horizon reading) and can't figure out why. About 15 seconds later the pilot says, 'OK, I'll, ah, we might be in a spin." Someone saw the airplane fly out of the clouds with its wings coming off from the stress of an uncontrolled dive. A family of five dies.

··· Delight, Arkansas, 1993: In low visibility the pilot says, "We've lost our vacuum. We're in the clouds. We're in a hell of a bind...Nothing's working." He says his electrical turn and bank indicator is also out. Then in a way similar to Taylor, the pilot says, "I need to get above these clouds. I'm fixing to get vertigo." He crashed minutes later. Three adults and three children were killed.

··· Marlow, Oklahoma, 1993: In severe weather, the pilot tells the air traffic controller that his vacuum pump is out and he's trying to fly using a partial panel. "I'm going to have to fly the airplane," he told the controller. Then he crashed. Three people, including an aide to U.S. Senator Don Nickles, were killed.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), like the FAA, maintains that a pilot like Taylor should be able to fly on a partial panel after a vacuum pump failure, although the association found that 50 percent of pilots in a flight simulator could not fly an airplane safely after an unannounced failure. But the AOPA is now testing pilot reaction in real airplanes and is finding a lower rate of pilot failure, says Warren Morningstar, vice president of communications for the association.

"We've done some research with pilots in a simulator. We're now replicating that research in a real aircraft to see if we can develop data one way or another to see how difficult that is," he says.

The owners association does not "see a call for additional regulatory action," Morningstar says. He characterizes vacuum pump failures as "pretty low on the list" of aviation safety priorities, particularly considering that pilots need to use instruments on only about 10 percent of all flights and because the accident rate related to vacuum pumps is relatively low. Of higher concern is the danger of pilots who don't know how to fly using instruments traveling into clouds where they can get disoriented, Morningstar says.

"The bottom line is that when we look at the number of spatial disorientation accidents there are usually about 30 a year. Out of those 30 or so spatial disorientation accidents, there are only about two or three that are attributable to vacuum pump failure or instrument failure."

The cost of installing a backup pump would be anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 per airplane, he guesses.

Parker Hannifin, the manufacturer of the vacuum pump in Taylor's Piper Cherokee, has been telling the FAA since 1986 that the pumps can fail without warning and that a backup system should be installed. Parker Hannifin has also issued warnings to aircraft owners, pilots and others about replacing the pumps after a set length of time and urges aircraft owners to install a backup system.

"This pump has a good life, it has a specific life, and we tell people that every so many hours they have to be changed regardless," says Jim Cartwright, corporate communications manager for Parker Hannifin. "We tell them also that they should fly it with a backup system whether it's vacuum or electronic. Whatever they want to use is immaterial."

In 1988, the FAA denied a request by Parker Hannifin to require backup pumps in all airplanes potentially affected by a pump failure, according to court documents filed as part of a lawsuit between Parker Hannifin and families of New Orleans crash victims. According to court testimony, the pump is designed to cannibalize itself until it stops, using fragments from wearing parts as its own lubrication.

In the lawsuit against Parker Hannifin, the New Orleans crash victims' families claimed the pump manufacturer did not go far enough to warn aircraft owners. And, as one lawyer working for Rivera-Worley said, warnings have done nothing to slow the rate of annual deaths related to the failures. While Parker Hannifin disagreed, saying it issued multiple warnings and went to great lengths to educate the public, it settled the lawsuit for an undisclosed amount of money.

While the FAA has studied problems with vacuum pumps and issued several safety directives, the agency maintains warnings are good enough to put aircraft owners on notice. In November, the FAA issued an "Airworthiness Concern Sheet" related to the failure of vacuum pumps. The sheet said that 1,990 instances of vacuum pump failure have been reported during about the last 10 years and that 18 had been reported in the previous year.

The agency issued the sheet in response to the dual-engine airplane crash that killed Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan, his son and a campaign aide in October. Carnahan's son, the pilot, reportedly told air traffic controllers that his artificial horizon had stopped working. A failure of a part of the vacuum system is suspected as the cause for the failure.

The FAA "anticipates" issuing a requirement that vacuum pumps in some airplanes be replaced after 10 years and that pilots be required to check the pumps before each flight, but that would affect only newer airplanes and those being manufactured now. Owners of airplanes built before 1993 should have been told of the problem and are free to replace the pumps, too. They just won't have a federal agency require it, says Roland Herwig, spokesman for the FAA southwest region. Proposed rule changes are in the "comment period," which allows manufacturers, the public and others to provide the agency with guidance related to rules. Herwig says the agency responds to priorities set by the NTSB and to the FAA's own investigations of statistics. Cost is a factor in a decision to consider issuing a directive, but the agency has no formula for deciding what apparent safety problems to address, he says.


After reaching the surface of Lake Pontchartrain, Rivera-Worley was frantic. She called out for her daughter and the others.

"Within just a few minutes I knew they were dead," she says. "Nobody. Not a sound. Quiet. Just me yelling. Then you realize they were not going to come up."

On the surface of the lake, there was no light, and the water below was pitch-black. By the time she figured out where she was and what had happened, she was unsure where the wrecked airplane was below her or how far down she would have to swim to reach it. Despite evidence that there was little she could have done anyway, she made an unconscious decision that will haunt her forever. She didn't go back under the water to look for her daughter or the others.

After a while, a rescue helicopter began sweeping the lake with a beam of light. She swam toward the light, but those aboard the helicopter didn't see her.

"I kept going through this kind of cyclical thing. There were times when I would get really desperate and cry and be hysterical and then I would hyperventilate and I'd say, OK, calm down, OK, what do I need to do? How do I stay alive? How is it logical that I stay alive? They are shining a light over there. Maybe that's the coastline. Maybe they are looking for bodies that washed up on the coastline. OK, I'll swim over there. I'd swim and swim and swim. Nothing there. They were just shining the light on the water."

She was overwhelmed with guilt for being alive and arranging the trip that resulted in her daughter's death. She called out to her mother who had died 25 years before and others who had died to watch out for her daughter and John Scott. She cursed God. She prayed. She tried to drown herself.

"But all I could think of is what will Lee do? What will Ernest do? I thought, well, you know, people expect to bury a spouse. I thought Lee could handle it. It's not that unusual to bury a spouse. And I thought we've got to bury Sarah. I thought about my dad. I thought, I can't, I can't do that. You know, but I really did want to do that."

She spent the night like that. Treading water. Swimming toward the lights. Frantic. Ashamed. Finally daybreak came. Around 10:30 a.m., about 12 hours after the airplane hit the water, rescuers saw her and pulled her from the lake.

"I was embarrassed of surviving. It was really strange," she says. "I was ashamed. I mean I was glad I lived because I knew I needed to come home to Ernest, but I was really ashamed."

After a few days in the hospital, she boarded an American Airlines flight to Dallas. Family and friends thought she might want to drive instead.

"I thought about it and thought no, my work doesn't require me to fly that often, but I can't let this just take over my life. The thought of flying didn't scare me that much," she says.

But during the flight, on her daughter's birthday four days after she died, the airliner flew right back over Lake Pontchartrain, where the small airplane was still submerged.

"I don't know why I didn't close the curtain, but all of the sudden I looked out at that lake and all I could think of is she's still there," Rivera-Worley says. "I'm going home, and she's still there."

John Scott, who was leaning into the cockpit at the time of impact, wore no seat belt, so his body floated to the surface a couple of days after the crash. He left a wife and two small children. There was still no sign of the others or of the airplane. Jerry Taylor used his own money to hire boats to drag the junk-strewn lake bottom and search underwater with sonar. Air traffic controllers had already told him that Bryan reported instrument failure, but Taylor was determined to get the evidence he would need to protect his son's good name and prove that pilot error was not the cause of the crash.

With sustained pressure from Taylor and the media, about two weeks after the crash authorities found the airplane along with the two remaining bodies. Bryan Scott Taylor and Sarah Worley were still buckled into their seats and had water in their lungs. They had drowned.

The NTSB ruled that the crash was caused by "the pilot's inability to maintain control of the airplane after experiencing spatial disorientation. Factors were the total failure of the vacuum pump, fog, drizzle and night conditions." Tests on the instruments showed that the vacuum pump had indeed failed, but it could not be determined if the electrically driven instruments had also gone out.

Like his backseat passenger, Bryan Scott Taylor also left a wife and two young children behind. Rivera-Worley was left to bury her daughter. She says she felt compelled to see her daughter's body, which had been decomposing at the bottom of the lake all that time. It was another bad idea.

"I said I have to see her. The guy at the funeral home said no, you don't want to do that...I needed to touch her. I needed to talk to her. I guess if I'd ever said goodbye to her I guess that's when I did. More than anything, I wanted to tell her how sorry I was."

But seeing her daughter's body in its ruined condition was more difficult than Rivera-Worley could have imagined. Her voice choked with emotion and almost in a whisper, she says, "She looked like a monster."

She's haunted by that image as much as she is by questions about whether she could have saved her daughter's life. An autopsy showed that Sarah had broken an arm and a thighbone. So, even if Rivera-Worley had been able to somehow swim back down to the airplane and extricate her daughter from the wreckage, it is likely she would have had to revive her daughter on the lake's surface and then somehow keep them both afloat and alive for 12 hours. Sarah would have been in terrific pain and most likely unable to tread water or swim without much help.

"If I had been able to get her, even if she had been alive I couldn't have kept her alive," Rivera-Worley says. "What was I going to do with her with a broken arm and broken leg? I might have had to let her go."

Rivera-Worley keeps her daughter's driver's license in her wallet and wears the watch Sarah was wearing the day of the crash. She visits the cemetery where, at Sarah's grave site, the family placed a concrete bench, planted a tree and put up wind chimes. Rivera-Worley puts flowers at the grave and tries to keep her daughter's memory alive by pursuing the issue of airplane backup systems with the FAA.

She also raises money for a scholarship fund set up in the name of her daughter, who by now might have been completing her junior year at Tulane. Jerry Taylor writes letters to legislators and others urging that the issue of backup systems be properly addressed by the FAA.

The anger Rivera-Worley felt that night in the lake burns within her, even more now that she knows that her daughter was taken from her in what many see as a preventable tragedy caused by the failure of a 16-year-old part that would have cost $260 to replace. She's angry at vacuum pump manufacturer Parker Hannifin, which, as a result of her lawsuit, was forced to release internal company documents related to the company's knowledge of the history of failed pumps and crashes. She's angry at God and now wholly dismisses the notion of divine intervention as fantasy.

But mostly, she's angry at the FAA. Her daughter isn't just a number for the FAA to add to its body count or to somebody's cost-benefit analysis, and neither are the others who died at Lake Pontchartrain and elsewhere, she says. It's wrong that the agency does nothing more when it knows for a fact that if a vacuum pump fails at a critical time, people are very likely to die.

"There was every strike against us. There was no way out of that," Rivera-Worley says and then repeats softly. "There was no way out of that. We were doomed. We were absolutely doomed."

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