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Thursday, June 3, 1999



Kauai native
hurt in Arkansas
plane crash

Evelyn Soo credits her good
luck in surviving to the bamboo
shoots in the luggage rack
over her head

By Gregg Kakesako
Star-Bulletin

Tapa

Former Kauai resident Evelyn Soo bought several shoots of bamboo at an Asian market in Los Angeles, bundled them carefully together and stored them in the rack above her seat on an American Airlines flight.

The bamboo shoots still remain in the bin above her seat in row 15 in the cabin of the Super MD-80 jetliner, which crashed Tuesday night at Little Rock National Airport during a powerful storm.

"I call them my lucky bamboo plants," said Soo, who was returning to Little Rock where she has lived for the past 39 years after moving there from Kekaha, where she grew up.

"They were about 9 inches long and I believe they were my lucky charms," said Soo, who was briefly hospitalized with deep cuts in her right calf.

Soo said she still needs a walker to get around and experienced bruises, bumps and a sprained finger.

She and her husband, Allen, and two Hawaii Army National Guard soldiers were among the 145 passengers on the flight from Dallas to Little Rock.

Nine people, including the pilot, were killed -- the first fatalities aboard a U.S. carrier in nearly 11/2 years.

The soldiers are Sgt. Fred Agag, 31; and Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Ko, 40. Both are members of the 12th Personnel Services Detachment. Agag underwent surgery for a deep cut to right thigh, his family said.

Ko was treated and released. Both are expected to return to Oahu.

The Soos were returning home after visiting relatives in Los Angeles and San Francisco with a layover in Dallas. American flight 1420 left Dallas two hours late.

"As we approached Little Rock, the pilot mentioned that we should look at the light show," said Evelyn Soo, a retired Arkansas public school educator. "I saw flashes of light. As we got closer to Little Rock, there wasn't much turbulence but it was raining hard.

"That's when I started to get apprehensive. I could sense some sort of danger.

"After we touched down on the runway we never did slow down. ... We never decelerated. ... It really scared me.

"I could tell we were in trouble as we raced across the landing strip. We kept hitting things. We kept hitting bumps.

"When we came to a stop there was a fire immediately behind us. Smoke was blowing into the cabin. People were beginning to panic. Everyone was trying to get out.

"I kept yelling "where is the closest exit?' Someone yelled back that it was three seats in front of me.

"I only remember getting to a small crack in the fuselage and looking down. I don't know how far down it was, but at that point I just jumped because I was so afraid of an explosion."

When she landed Evelyn Soo, 65, said she immediately began looking for her husband. "I felt so helpless. I kept yelling and yelling for him until I finally saw his face in the crack in the fuselage."

Allen Soo also escaped without any major injuries, but is now wearing a neck brace because of a possible whiplash.

Evelyn Soo said she doesn't know if she can get back into the air right away.

"I am going to try, said Soo, who now teaches reading at the University of Arkansas. "After all how will get home to Hawaii? I know I will be very apprehensive on that first flight."

She and her husband normally try to visit the islands each year. Their next scheduled visit was supposed to be in December.

"We just feel very, very thankful."

Ko and Agag, who are full-time technicians with the Hawaii Army National Guard, were supposed to undergo several weeks of training at the National Guard's Professional Education Center in Little Rock.

Agag had left his wife and their 3-year-old son at his parents' home in Kailua before departing on the trip.

His mother, Blandina Agag, said she cried when an Army chaplain called Tuesday night to tell the family he had been injured in the crash.

"I'm so lucky, because my son is alive," she said yesterday.

Agag's family doesn't know how he made it out of the plane to safety.

Agag's wife, Minette, left for Little Rock to be with her husband, while their son stayed with his grandmother.

Agag joined the National Guard following graduation from McKinley High School in 1986. Ko became a reservist in 1987.



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