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Destinies set by happenstance For passengers who didn't board fateful flight, feelings of relief tempered by shock, disbelief "When a further delay appeared on the screen . . . I booked my flight for the next day."

Some of the most poignant stories emerging after the crash of Flight 3407 Thursday night are from people who missed it.

One is Patricia LeCastre of Buffalo, a retired Clarence teacher who was scheduled to fly from Los Angeles to Newark on Thursday, then catch Flight 3407 back to Buffalo.

"It took me a couple of days to get to the point where I could tell my story," LeCastre said, "but I also had a seat on the flight that went down."

Although she escaped the tragedy, LeCastre knew two people who died.

"Ellyce Kausner was one of my students, and I live two doors down from Alison Des Forges, she was my neighbor," LeCastre said.

LeCastre had been visiting her daughter Kelly in Venice Beach, Calif., for about a week. On Thursday morning, Kelly dropped her off early for a 9:50 a.m. departure.

"I was sitting at the gate at about 8:15 a.m. Los Angeles time, and the words 'flight delay' appeared on the screen," she said of her flight from Los Angeles to Newark.

"It looked to be about a three-hour delay. I thought, there's a good chance I won't make it to Buffalo once I get to Newark."

So LeCastre sent a text message to her daughter Sonya, in Buffalo, reaching her on her lunch hour.

"She texted me back and said many schools are closed because of power outages due to high winds, so it's not a good idea to come home today," LeCastre said. "With all that in mind, when a further delay appeared on the screen, I called my daughter Kelly, and she came back and got me, and I booked my flight for the next day. Same flight, same time, and I got home," she said.

She and her daughter Kelly in California heard the news overnight that the plane on which LeCastre had been booked had gone down, with all on board lost.

"We were absolutely shocked," she said, "and I just am so upset for the families, those I know and for the Clarence community."

LeCastre, who taught in Clarence for almost 30 years until her retirement in June from teaching third grade at Ledgeview Elementary School, said she believes the people in the community are able to help others.

"I just can't say enough about them. I have come to know so many of them through the years," she said.

As for her own brush with tragedy, LeCastre said she originally held back, but was urged by friends and family to share her story.

"My head has been just swirling for these two days. It's been a very rattling and upsetting and sad experience," she said.

Also originally booked onto Flight 3407 was the family of Jeff and Kathleen Smith of Palm Beach, Fla., who were flying with their two sons, Paddon, 7, and Tanner, 4.

Smith, an American Hockey League referee who was headed to Western New York to work games over the weekend, told the Hamilton (Ont.) Spectator that a flight attendant recommended they not take the flight, which was likely to be turbulent, "for the sake of your children."

Smith said he approached the Continental counter at Newark because of delays in the takeoff of Flight 3407. When the attendant saw that he was flying with his young sons, Smith told the Spectator, she suggested he wait.

"This flight is going to be bumpy and for the sake of your children I wouldn't take it," she told him.

"I'm staring at our four boarding passes for the Continental flight and then looking at my two children and realizing how lucky we are," Smith told the Spectator.

The Smith family could not be reached by The Buffalo News.

Michelle Chesebro of Allegany didn't realize she could have been on Flight 3407 until one of her co-workers called her at home to see if she was all right.

"I fly two times a week," she said Sunday night, "so I didn't even know which flight number I was on. I looked up my itinerary on the computer and that's when the shock started settling in. It's still settling in."

Chesebro, a licensed radiation therapist, said she works as an applications trainer for a radiation oncology company, Brainlab, based in Chicago. When she found out that her training appointment in New Jersey had been canceled, she and a co-worker decided to fly home earlier on Thursday.

"They advised us to go on standby," she said, "so we were at the airport at 7:30 in the morning. There was a long line at Continental but we got to the front of the line at 8:15 and there was a flight leaving then. I asked them, 'Do you think I can make it?' They said, 'We can try.' I paid $50 to change my flight and found it was delayed, so I had plenty of time. And once I was aboard, we sat for three hours. We finally left Newark between 12 and 12:30 [p.m.] and I got here at 1:30."

Also originally booked on the doomed flight were two young Irish dance champions, their mother, their dance teacher and her mother, all from Western New York.

Mary Kay Heneghan, of Orchard Park, owner of Rince Na Tierna School of Irish Dance, was returning from Ireland with her mother, Mary, and with Tracy Dargan and Dargan's daughters, 12-year-old Fiona and 14-year-old Kevinah. They switched to an earlier flight after their Irish airplane arrived early and they realized they would have a nine-hour layover in Newark.

e-mail: aneville@buffnews.com

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