Remembering Esther Chopelas:
I am responding to your e-mail asking to hear from families who had a family member who was on the plane that crashed on Rikers Island Feb. 1st, 1957. My mother Esther Chopelas and brother Gregory Chopelas were on that flight. They are both in the book Tiger on a Leash. The author Alvin Moscow had visited our house and had dinner and got more information from my mother about the crash. I was only a baby so I don't remember him.
My mother was one of the worst burned survivors. My brother, only 2 years old, had been tossed from the plane and got his arm badly burned.
I was only 1 years old at the time. Being in a family of 17 sisters and brothers, it was a real sad time for all of us. My mother had gone through so many skin graphs and had to be hospitalize for a very long time. Most of my childhood, I would only be able to go to the hospital and wave up to her standing at the hospital room window.
Back then, little children were not allowed to go in the hospital. All I could see is my mother waving but she had bandages covering her face and body. It was hard to see her like that, I just wanted to be with her.
I am so sorry for all the other families that had gone though the pain of their loss and injured loved ones. . . .
I have had such a rough time handling the fact that I may not be able to attend tomorrow (February 2007 commemoration on Rikers Island).
Not to attemd hurts so much because I feel that I need to be there for my Mother.
I only have this photo of my mother right now that I can send you.
It is so important to me that she be recognized for such a brave and special person.
I hope her photo will be able to be present at the ceremony. . . .
I would like to have her remembered tomorrow as such a strong and beautiful person that had gone through so much and still had the strength to carry on and be my family's inspiration.
My brother Gregory was on that flight with her and carries her in his heart everyday,
It was such a long time ago,but I think about it often. My mother lived until she was 65 and my brother, myself and the rest of my family will never forget.
My mother my best friend, she was so very strong,
Even with all the pain she always tried to hide from me,
She taught me to go on no matter how rough,
After all she had gone through she always helped me know
I'm proud to be so much like her and spread her love to others,
She has touched so many people with her all her strength and love,
Love from her daughter Diane
In his Tiger on a Leash, Alvin Moscow devotes several passages on various pages -- scattered throughout the book -- to Mrs. Esther Chopelas. Here are a few excerpts from some of those passages:
"Mrs. Esther Chopelas, a Maiden, Massachusetts, housewife, [was] going up in an airplane for the first time in her life.
"A former waitress, she had married the owner of the restaurant who had 9 children from his first marriage and she had brought into this world 8 children of her own. The trip to Florida with her youngest son, Gregory, who was two and one-half, was a gift from her husband, Stavros. He had driven to Miami two weeks before. . . .
"Her husbandís brother, George, drove her from Maiden to Logan Airport in Boston . . . On the hour-long flight to New York, Mrs. Chopelas was so nervous that the stewardess sat by her side, comforting her. . . .
[Later when the plane crashed]"Mrs. Chopelas, the 5-foot-3 Maiden mother who had been so afraid of flying, now mustered the toughness developed in raising 17 children and caring for a 16-room Victorian house. She had no trouble with her seat belt because she had not fastened it.
"Clasping her little boy to her bosom, she climbed over the woman sitting immobile in the aisle seat. Her neighbor at the window seat also appeared to be unconscious or dead, but Mrs. Chopelas had herself and her son to worry about. . . . Clad only in a low-cut green taffeta dress, she was being severely burned, but she was unaware of pain. . .
"Of the 75 passengers who escaped alive, - 25 were severely burned. The worst-maimed passenger was Mrs. Chopelas, who survived primarily by dint of will power.
"Her lungs poisoned by smoke, she was unable to speak for two weeks. Her eyes seared by fire, she was blind for three weeks. Fire had consumed parts of her ten fingers and charred her face, her hands, arms, legs and upper back. She spent almost four months in two hospitals.
"In three years she has undergone 45 major operations. Her doctor and hospital bills totaled more than $50,000. She has resumed a more or less normal life, but has given up going out in public. In an out-of-court settlement of her suit against Northeast, she received $257,000. Mrs. Chopelasí settlement was the largest by far. . . ."
To List of DOC staffers honored for air crash response.
To: List of names of those aboard Northeast Airlines DC-6A Feb. 1, 1957
To The Andersons of Canada remember.
To: Other views, other voices: Rikers air crash
To CAB report on its investigation of the crash.
To: 1989 airplane crash into Rikers Island channel waters
To: NYCHS home page.
To NYC DOC history menu page.