Chilean sympathizer: Crash survivor knows what it's like
Phil Bradley knows what it's like to wonder if rescue will ever come or if you'll die without anyone even knowing you're there. He's watched the 33 trapped miners in Chile emerge from deep in the earth, and says, "I can empathize with those people."
Bradley is the sole survivor of Piedmont Flight 349, which crashed into Bucks Elbow Mountain nearly 51 years ago. The 26 other people on that flight died, and Bradley lay alone on that mountain for 36 hours before rescuers found him.
"I know they were there a lot longer than I was–- 17 days before they were found," says Bradley of the miners during the more than two weeks when no one knew they were alive.
Bradley was aboard the doomed flight on Friday night, October 30, 1959. "The first night I didn't think about [rescue]," he says, nor did he too much the next day.
"Sunday morning, it was nice, warm and pretty, and I could see planes flying over," recalls Bradley, in a telephone interview. Finally, after two bone-chilling nights surrounded by dead bodies and occasionally burning wreckage, he heard people coming down the mountain–- which surprised him, because he'd expected rescuers to come from below.
Bradley, who grew up in Clifton Forge and now lives in an exurb of Charlotte, North Carolina, is a retired labor organizer; and it was a union mission to Oklahoma City that put him on Flight 349. With the 51st anniversary of Albemarle's worst crash coming up, Bradley, now 85, says he doesn't have flashbacks about the traumatic event that happened when he was 33.
"I was in the Normandy invasion," he explains, an event he considers far worse. "I could hear fellows on the beach calling for their mother."
A documentary is being made about the crash of Flight 349, and that could bring Bradley back to the scene when the filmmaker tries to capture leaf color this time of year.
He makes a prediction for the miners rescued from Copiapo, Chile: "Those guys won't have to work for a living. I had to work like a dog. If I could have made it 69 days..." he jokes.
More seriously, Bradley adds with the experience of someone who's been there and been found, "You're thankful someone will rescue you."