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Ceremony planned for Norwin graduate killed in 1985 plane crash

| Thursday, April 26, 2012, 1:24 a.m.

Not a day goes by that Marlyn Shipley doesn't think of her son Michael and wonder exactly what happened to him, 247 other soldiers and eight crew members aboard a chartered airplane that exploded on Dec. 12, 1985, over Gander, Newfoundland.

"I look at his picture and ask, 'Why?'" she said.

Cpl. Michael Shipley, 27, a 1977 graduate of Norwin High School and a member of the Army's 101st Airborne Division, was on his way home for the Christmas holiday when his plane went down.

Shipley of North Huntingdon has worked tirelessly to make sure her son isn't forgotten. Her efforts helped to attain Killed-in-Action recognition for her son in 2001.

In observance of Memorial Day, she will join family and friends in a brief ceremony Sunday at Penn-Lincoln Memorial Park in North Huntingdon. They will visit the graves of Michael and his father, Alvin, a Korean War veteran who died in May 2007. She expects to be joined by many in her family, including her five surviving children, nine grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.

"All I really want to do is clean up the grave a little bit and say a little prayer for him," she said. "We're going to put some flowers down."

Raymond Shipley, 54, said his younger brother "was a great person. He just loved everybody."

"I would like to know what he'd be like today. It's a chance for all of us to regroup and give our thanks for all of his service," he said. "We'll never know the truth. It sure would be nice to know."

In 1988, the Canadian Safety Advisory Board ruled that ice on the wings caused the plane to crash. That was the ruling of five of the board's nine members. Three of the dissenting members believed terrorism was to blame for the explosion, while the fourth said terrorism was a strong possibility.

Marlyn Shipley said she never accepted the iced-wing theory, and neither did her husband. She said the servicemen had to remove their dog tags on board and dress in civilian clothes. Also, she said, she received the contents of her son's wallet but not the wallet or the money.

Nearly 25 years later, she said, she still doesn't feel like she's gotten closure.

"There was no ice on the wings," she said. "I would just like someone to look at me and say, 'You were right.' I know in my heart they were blown up."

"I don't know what happened to my son," she added. "I know he's in a much better place, but how much better would it be if he was here with me?"

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