The search for survivors, and then remains, lasted
nearly two weeks. Piñones Beach was overrun. Fans stood
hour after hour watching search crews. They took private boats
out to place wreaths upon the water. Manny Sanguillen, a close
friend and Pirate teammate, spent three days diving the shark-infested
depths in his search for Roberto. The pilot’s ruined body
was eventually recovered. The remains of the two crewmembers, Clemente,
and his friend, Rafael Lozano, were never found.
An FAA investigation revealed a history of mechanical
problems on the DC-7, that it was overloaded by 4,000 pounds, and
did not have a qualified co-pilot or flight engineer. Clemente
did not know any of this, though he had some concerns about the
Yet he flew, and the moment the plane plunged
into the heavy Atlantic seas, Roberto’s story ascended to
mythic status. He became hero to an entire nation.
Around the world, private citizens and government
officials eulogized Clemente, organized special memorial services,
raised funds for the relief effort, and for Clemente’s lifelong
dream, Sports City. The Mayor of Pittsburgh, Peter F. Flaherty,
declared the observance of “Roberto Clemente Memorial Week.” The
President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, praised Clemente
and made a personal donation of $1,000 to the earthquake victims
Clearly, the legend of Roberto Clemente was written
long before his death. He wrote it with his life. But the way Clemente
died underscored the way he lived and lifted his image to icon.
it is 31 years since the accident, and I receive mail from fans
of different ages. They use his name for babies and some send
me the birth certificate to sign. And really, it doesn’t
stop. Every year. United States. Latin America. Europe."
"He was a very
serious and dedicated individual when it came to anything he
did in life. Professional… Quiet, but firm. Dedicated completely.
He had a lot of pride in being Roberto Clemente the baseball
player, but it was not the type of pride where he thought he
had authority to demean other people. He never did that. He was
simply proud of the ballplayer that he was. I think bottom line
for him was trying to show other Puerto Ricans and other human
beings that regardless of how poor you are, the color of your
skin, your main language, if you dedicate yourself to a cause,
you can be a winner. That was bottom line for him."
Latin American baseball executive, former broadcaster, and friend of Clemente