CHRISTIAN PANUCCIThe hand of fate
It’s Wednesday July 17, 1996 in New York City and AC Milan defender Christian Panucci is pacing the departure lounge at John F. Kennedy airport. He is waiting for the first of two connecting flights that will take him back to his home land. It is late afternoon, he is getting tired and to make matters even worse, he has just been informed that his luggage has mysteriously vanished.
His mind flashes back to a few days earlier: He had been in Atlanta, Georgia, preparing for the 1996 Summer Olympics having been named captain of Italy by Coach Cesare Maldini. Then, during a routine warm-up match, he picked up an injury and was forced to leave the Italian camp. He curses his luck and continues pacing.
With the clock ticking towards the departure time of his TWA flight to Paris, and his suitcases still nowhere to be seen, Panucci approaches a member of Alitalia airways staff and explains his situation. The sympathetic worker checks the schedule and explains that there are seats available on a later flight heading direct to Milan. Unfortunately, it is departing from Newark airport which is an hour’s cab-ride, traffic permitting.
After ordering another strong coffee and weighing up his options, Panucci decides that taking the later Alitalia flight would make more sense. Not only will it increase his chances of being reunited with his luggage, but it also means that he can avoid a stop-off in Paris and a domestic flight from Rome to Milan. He walks back to the Alitalia desk to make the necessary arrangements, unaware that he has just made a decision that will ultimately save his life.
Shortly before 8:00pm, while the two-time Serie A champion is preparing to make the journey west to Newark, the last boarding call is made for the TWA flight 800 from New York to Paris. Several minutes later, with the gate finally closed, the plane taxis towards the runway and is given the all-clear for take-off.
Flight 800 never made it to Paris. Just 46 minutes into its journey, the Boeing 747 crashed into the sea off Long Island, killing all 230 passengers on board.