24 November, 2016
On January 13, 1982, during an extraordinary period of freezing weather, Air Florida Flight 90 took off from nearby Washington National Airport. The 737 failed to gain altitude, and crashed into the 14th Street Bridge, where it hit six cars and a truck on the bridge, killing four motorists.
After the devastating crash on the bridge, the plane then continued forward and plunged into the freezing Potomac River. Soon only the tail section which had broken off remained afloat. Only 6 of the airliner’s 79 occupants (74 passengers and 5 crew members) survived the initial crash and were able to escape the sinking plane in the middle of the ice choked river.
Mr. Arland Dean Williams Jr. was a passenger aboard Air Florida Flight 90. One of just six people to survive the crash, he helped the other five escape the sinking plane before succumbing to his injuries.
“His heroism was not rash. Aware that his own strength was fading, he deliberately handed hope to someone else, and he did so repeatedly. On that cold and tragic day, Arland D. Williams Jr. exemplified one of the best attributes of human nature, specifically that some people are capable of doing anything for total strangers.’ -In the words of a clergyman.
“He was about 50 years old, one of half a dozen survivors clinging to twisted wreckage bobbing in the icy Potomac when the first helicopter arrived. To the copter’s two-man Park Police crew he seemed the most alert. Life vests were dropped, then a flotation ball. The man passed them to the others. On two occasions, the crew recalled last night, he handed away a life line from the hovering machine that could have dragged him to safety. The helicopter crew who rescued five people, the only persons who survived from the jetliner lifted a woman to the riverbank, then dragged three more persons across the ice to safety. Then the life line saved a woman who was trying to swim away from the sinking wreckage, and the helicopter pilot, Donald W. Usher, returned to the scene, but the man was gone.” -“A Hero Passenger Aids Others, Then Dies”, The Washington Post, January 14, 1982.
An essay in Time Magazine dated January 25, 1982, was written before the identity of Williams was known. Roger Rosenblatt, the essay’s author, wrote:
“So the man in the water had his own natural powers. He could not make ice storms, or freeze the water until it froze the blood. But he could hand life over to a stranger, and that is a power of nature too. The man in the water pitted himself against an implacable, impersonal enemy; he fought it with charity; and he held it to a standoff. He was the best we can do. ”
-Rosenblatt, R., “The Man in the Water,” Time Magazine, January 25, 1982. Mr. Williams was a Veteran and a Citadel Man, member of The Citadel Class of 1957. Williams had been nervous about The Citadel’s swimming requirement, as he had always had a fear of water and “didn’t know if he could overcome it to push through that test…