Falling From January: In Remembrance of Arland D. Williams, Jr.


*Just an update here on the 31st anniversary of the Flight 90 crash.  Today I would feel wrong if I didn’t push the original article to the front page of The ThrowDown, although we do have new material up.  For those of you that have not read my article, I hope you will, and urge you to take a look at many of the materials regarding this subject around the internet.  The greater tragedy to myself would be if the actions of Arland Williams aka “the man in the water” go forgotten.  Thanks for reading. ~JB.

As all of the United States recognizes the tenth anniversary of the worst tragedy on American soil, I must admit, I was torn actually posting something today.  I was just going to stick a rotating slide show up, and call it until we resume posting again this week.  It was actually one of my Throwdown partners, Big Angry, that convinced me that I should run the post I had tabled.  It didn’t fit our brand, because of the content.  B.A.  pointed out to me, that although it’s not a 9-11 post, it captures what we are thinking about on this sullen anniversary.  Life, death and the ability to move forward.  It is a story of a man you may not know, but that I cannot seem to forget.  The man’s name is Arland D. Williams, Jr., and I hope with your thoughts and prayers today, you will keep his family, and his memory in mind.  I now submit to you, the piece that was never meant to be released.  God bless our country.

I’ve posted many, many times.  My own blogs, the blogs of others and some, well I’m not even sure they were blogs at all.  If I were to showcase all the things I’ve written about, not one would be in the same ballpark, in terms of content, of the post you are about to read.  This post will not be snarky, tongue-in-cheek or humorous in any fashion, and it will more than likely be the only one I pen in this style.

This post is about life, death and the moment in between.  The moment when someone becomes, more than just another face in the crowd.  It was in one of those moments, Arland D. Williams, Jr. stepped forth and redefined human resolve, on a January day in 1982.

Air Florida flight 90 from Washington D.C.,  had just gone wheels up when the plane, wings full of ice and snow, plunged from a mere 350 feet, struck the 14th Street bridge and went nose down into the frozen Potomac River.  Many debates have taken place over this flight, which you can find elsewhere.  This article focuses solely on what happened after the plane was in the water.

One of the six people  that survived the initial crash, Arland Williams, a simple businessman, clung to the wreckage of the plane as news cameras filmed the horrific scene from the shore.  Racing against time, a safety helicopter shuttled back and forth, attempting to drop a life line into the frigid water for the survivors to grasp, one at a time.

With each and every time the life-preserver at the end of the line came into grasp, Arland grabbed the floatation device, and passed it to one of the other survivors.  There has been a large number of pictures and video clips documenting this event, although for quite some time, no one seemed to know the mystery survivor’s identity.  Many witnesses that were on hand, including rescue personnel, were shocked that Williams, unconcerned with his own survival, kept handing his chance at survival off to the person next to him.

Helicopter pilot Donald Usher later recounted how he watched Williams do this heroic act until the other five survivors were on shore, and when he made his final venture to the icy deep of the winter Potomac, Arland Williams, survivor of a plane crash, had disappeared underneath the icy waters.  Williams gave his final moments of life for five total strangers.

Seeing this as a boy, it was the moment in my life in which I realized, life isn’t like the movies.  Heroes don’t always come out unscathed.  Life happens, and just when you get comfortable, a few moments come along and reshape everything you know.  This is the lesson I learned watching the events unfold that day in January.  Life is precious.  Then it is gone.

Arland D. Williams, Jr.  gave his life for fellow-man that day, but it is as if fate allowed him to catch that rare moment in between life and death, the moment where the human spirit resides.

In 1983, the 14th Street Bridge, the bridge struck by Air Florida Flight 90, would be renamed the Arland D. Williams Jr. Memorial Bridge, spanning the depths where Arland, gave all.

Arland Dean Williams, Jr.



Filed under Mishmosh Ranting

13 responses to “Falling From January: In Remembrance of Arland D. Williams, Jr.

  1. TheIdiotSpeaketh

    I remember that crash and the story of Mr. Williams. A true hero. Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

    • You’re very welcome. If Big Angry wouldn’t have talked me into releasing it, it would have just died in the “draft” area. But, glad I did now, always felt I wanted to pay homage somehow. Guess this was my way.

  2. James Sprada

    I was trudging through the heavy snow on Key Bridge at the moment the crash occurred but didn’t find out anything about it until I got to my apartment in Rosslyn. While taking a warm bath I heard the reports on TV. I went to the roof of the Normandy House and saw the emergency lights everywhere on the 14th St. bridge and clouds of smoke blowing upward. I prayed a lot that day, since I was a frequent business traveller myself, long-time resident of Florida and frequent passenger on Air Florida.
    May they all rest in peace on this 30th anniversary.

  3. elaine robinson

    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.[1]


    • “The Man in the Water” is an excellent piece, and I strongly suggest people that want to know more about those January events read it. Hopefully, men like Arland Williams will be recognized throughout history as pillars that all of humanity can point to, and be proud of.

  4. hans

    I remember that footage from my youngth. It was burned into my memory as well.

  5. Clementine Cloyd

    I live in Mr. Williams’ hometown. We, of course, never forget this seemingly ordinary man who became a hero when faced with extraordinary circumstances. Even the actions of heroes are eventually forgotten as the years and people pass, but are remembered as long as we remember, and reminders of such courage are always important, especially in these days when the news is filled with lies and scandals. I never had the fortune to meet Mr. Williams, he was older than I am, but I met his father once after the accident. His father did business with the company I worked for and he came into my office to pay his bill and made a passing remark about his son. It wasn’t boastful, it was just proud and overwhelmingly sad. I’ll never forget the look on Mr. Arland’s face and the thought that crossed my mind of how awful it must be to lose your child. I lost my own son in an accident four years ago, and I understand that feeling all too well now. Thank you for remembering Mr. Williams’ incredible act of selflessness, for it should be remembered. And for remembering the Arland’s brave son, for I know just what that would mean to them.

  6. Doris Grayem

    I have been trying to find an article that was in Guidepost Magazine about Mr. Williams. I’d love to read the article again.

  7. John

    Mr Williams showed us all what being a human being is all about too many in this world have forgotten

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