Editor’s Note: Today marks the one-year anniversary of Continental Flight 3407 outside of Buffalo, a tragedy that killed 50 people, including Lorin Maurer, the girlfriend of Ohio State men’s basketball video coordinator Kevin Kuwik. For more information on the impact of Continental Flight 3407, visit www.3407memorial.com. The No.13-ranked Buckeyes will don patches on their uniforms Sunday in memory of the victims of Flight 3407 as they take on Illinois at 1 p.m. ET on CBS. Each patch is a two-inch white circle with black border and 3407 in black inside the circle.
One Year Later: Triumphing Over Tragedy
Kevin Kuwik honors his late girlfriend by lobbying Congress for stricter aviation laws.
by Emily Krizan
Ohio State Athletics Communications student
Kevin Kuwik waited at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport one year ago today, but his girlfriend, Lorin Maurer would never arrive. Nor would any of the other passengers on Continental Flight 3407.
“I was waiting for Lorin to fly in that night,” Kuwik said. “I waited and waited…but a real tragedy occurred…”
The Something That Was Missing
The current video coordinator for the Ohio State men’s basketball team, Kuwik, 35, became a part of the Buckeye family in August 2009.
“The opportunity to come to a program of this stature, to a school with this type of tradition and the chance to work for Coach Matta is great,” Kuwik said. “He (Matta) is clearly one of the top coaches in the business, and you can’t turn down an opportunity like that.”
Prior to Ohio State, Kuwik spent time on the staffs of Christian Brothers University, Ohio University and Butler University. But it was during his stint with the Bulldogs that Kuwik’s priorities became more than game tapes and box scores.
“I think when you’re trying to find that special person, you’re looking for someone who is your best friend and who approaches life the same way you do and sees things the way you do,” he said.
For Kuwik, that person was Lorin Maurer.
Maurer, 30, was the Athletic Friends manager for the Princeton Department of Athletics when she met Kuwik in San Antonio at the 2008 Final Four.
A former standout swimmer at Rowan University, Kuwik described Lorin as “very fun loving.”
“It took me a long time to find someone like her,” he said.
A few seconds can be a long a time.
In basketball, a few seconds can add another trophy to the case or spell the end of a season. Sometimes, a few seconds are all it takes to change a life forever.
Dating for 10 months, Kuwik did not know that the clock was ticking down for his time left with Maurer. It was nearly Valentine’s Day weekend, and Maurer was due to meet Kuwik in Buffalo for his brother’s wedding.
But on Feb. 12, 2009, when Continental Flight 3407 was scheduled to land at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, the final seconds began their countdown.
Maurer’s plane would never reach its destination.
Crashing 10 miles from the airport in Clarence Center, N.Y., Maurer, along with the 49 others aboard the turboprop jet, perished.
The buzzer went off as the clock hit zero.
“I just feel so cheated I didn’t get more time,” Kuwik said.
In the hours and days following the crash, Kuwik was clearly visible to both the media and grieving family members. No stranger to the spotlight, Kuwik was often out front, helping the group of confused, grief-stricken families struggling to find sense.
“I didn’t sleep until about nine in the morning,” Kuwik said. “I slept for about an hour and 15 minutes. I woke up and there was a reporter from the Buffalo News at my door.”
But when the stories were written and the camera lights turned off, Kuwik too struggled to be alone with his thoughts.
“When this happened, it was the middle of the season at Butler, and we were down the stretch battling for a conference title, battling for the NCAA tournament,” Kuwik said. “But when our season did end and there was kind of that lull, it really hits you like a load of bricks.”
With the exact cause of the crash still unknown, a National Transportation Safety Board hearing in May began to reveal possible causes.
“That week we basically found that everything that could go wrong did go wrong with how that flight was run and how that airline operated,” Kuwik said.
The 3407 flight, outsourced to Colgan Air under the Continental name, was just one of the hundreds of regional airline flights that take off each day. Flying in icy conditions, the pilot is believed to have pitched upward when stalling; a critical, avoidable error. An error the victim’s families believe could have been prevented with increased pilot training.
Already united by tragedy, the families again came together, this time, to ensure the prevention of future accidents by addressing industry safety issues such as pilot fatigue and training.
Looking for a way to cope, Kuwik looked to Maurer’s father for both motivation and support.
“Lorin’s Dad, Scott Maurer, right away started writing and calling [legislators],” Kuwik said. “He was not going to let his daughter’s death go unavenged I guess you would say. I saw the pain he was going through and the difference he was trying to make, and I said to myself, ‘I want to help him succeed.'”
Finding the Positive
Kuwik’s nights are long. The No. 13 Buckeyes are in the hunt for a conference crown and coaching is never a nine-to-five job. But after the playbooks are put away, Kuwik sets in to work for a different team.
“You find yourself sending emails at one or two in the morning,” Kuwik said. “You have to be very efficient and well planned out as far as what you need to get done. You try to squeeze a lot more things in the same amount of hours, but it gives you another perspective.”
In less than a year, Kuwik and the other families have met with numerous officials in Washington, D.C., as they seek justice for their loved ones and search for answers.
“Basically, anyone in D.C. who has a dog in the hunt as far as aviation safety we’ve been meeting with,” Kuwik said. “We’ve invested so much, and as you get to know the 50 different sets of families and how it has rocked all of our worlds in different ways, and how this has been something that we’ve been able to rally behind, you start to think ‘hey, maybe our loved ones didn’t die in vain. We can make a difference here.’
For Kuwik, the trips to Washington, coupled between games and practices, have seen the passage of H.R. 3371, the ‘Airline Safety and Pilot Training Improvement Act’ by the House, and the introduction of four aviation safety bills in the Senate, most importantly the FAA Reauthorization Act. However, the increased safety provisions have been backed up behind the Senate healthcare reform for months.
A step in the right direction, but not enough says Kuwik.
“Comparatively, we’ve really pushed things far in a short period of time,” Kuwik said. “But I also say there’s no partial credit here. Either you get it all the way through or you don’t have anything to show for it. We’ve still got some more pushing to do, but hopefully there will be a positive at the end of all this.”
Kuwik, who jumpstarted his coaching career as a student assistant to former Notre Dame head coach John MacLeod, has found many comparisons between coaching and politics.
“In coaching, when you break down a game after the fact, you always say it’s the process not the result,” he said. “Same thing here, it’s the process not the result. There may not be planes falling out the sky every day, but clearly situations were allowed to exist that set up an accident like this.”
Today, on the one-year anniversary of the crash, friends and families of the victims will rally in Buffalo to “Walk to Complete the Journey.” Making the 10-mile trek from the crash site to the airport, Kuwik, along with Maurer’s family, will walk to finish the trip that Lorin could not.
“Finishing the journey is emotional and it will help us bring some closure to what they went through,” Scott Maurer said. “About a week ago, someone asked me where I was a year ago. A year ago my wife and I had returned home from Indianapolis with the feeling that we may have met our future son-in-law and what a wonderful young man he was, and how happy he made our daughter. To do the walk with him will be a pleasure.”
Kuwik knows that the pain will never completely go away, and that Lorin Maurer will never come back, but for now, it’s something positive to ease the hurt a little.
“Lorin had an unbelievable sense of fairness for one thing, and this clearly wasn’t fair,” he said. “I know she would be proud that I, her family, all the other families are trying to do what we can and not let this happen again.
“I always say that actions speak louder than words, so hopefully she would realize how much I loved her by all that I’m doing.”