Coastal Review: Down East shares grief, strength after tragedy

[photo courtesy Down East Council]

Editor’s Note: Coastal Review asked Karen Willis Amspacher, executive director of Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center on Harkers Island, to share how the tight-knit Down East Carteret County communities are coping with the deadly plane crash Sunday. Of the eight lives lost on the private plane that was returning from a duck hunting trip in Hyde County, six were Carteret County residents and two were from Pitt County.

A few days ago, no one could have ever imagined what the people of Down East would be facing. Life was slowly moving closer to “normal” as the pandemic (at least) seemed to be fading, winter was giving way to a few hints of spring and the fishermen were working on their nets, pots and boats. All was calm Sunday morning.

And then it happened, the unimaginable.

Phones and social media went wild with calls for prayer, questions of who was on the plane and what happened, where and when, all laced with a painful mixture of fear, dread, and disbelief. As the names emerged, the story unfolded and one of the most horrific moments in Down East history began to emerge.

We are now going into our fourth day of this nightmare and the reality is worse than anyone could grasp in the beginning. Each day has brought deeper heartaches as the facts have become known. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, brothers and sisters, families and neighborhoods have waited hour by hour for news from the offshore search.

For Down East, the world stopped …

Shrimper and East Carteret High School teacher Zack Davis, of Marshallberg, says it is “instinctive” for Down East people to “carry its loved ones” through times like these. He tells how we come from a long line of tragedies, from shipwrecks to hurricanes, lost loved ones and difficult times, and he is right. Since Sunday we have relived the Storm of ’33, boats sinking, men and women lost to lasting tragedies that remain etched in our collective minds and hearts. This is not our first disaster and the people Down East don’t forget.

We cannot forget. Down East people are so intertwined with one another there is no way to move too far beyond the people we have loved. We are all “kin” in ways that we cannot explain and we don’t even understand, and we don’t even try to figure it out, we just know. Our mothers and fathers were connected, and their mothers and fathers ahead of them. Generations of overlap and shared bonds define who we are, the way we hold onto each other and this place that binds us, Core Sound and the people we love.

For the communities of Atlantic, Sea Level and Cedar Island, these are their children, the boys they taught in Sunday School and took shrimping in the summer. Their families, generations deep, are grounded in their harbors, just like each community is with their own — this way of life, this place that has shaped us through the traditions that we share across the creeks and marshes of eastern Carteret County.

For Down East, one community’s burden is every community’s shared heartache. These children, and their families, are part of us too. From generation to generation we have worked together, played ball together, fished together, shrimped together, marched in the band together, raised our children together, and for many of us, we have grown old together.

It’s been said that Down East is “at its best when things are at their worst” and that is true, but this burden, this tragedy has been of such magnitude we could not have ever faced it alone. This cruel agony runs too deep in all of us.

We are amazed, overwhelmed and humbled by the outpouring from the entire county and beyond. Ribbons and school colors, pop-up fundraisers, everyone trying to do “something” to help ease the burden, show their love, and meet the needs such a tragedy creates. This has been at the scale Down East has never seen before. This too was unimaginable before Sunday.

From across the state and country, people have heard of this disaster and are offering their prayers and reminders that people really do care. In these dark days for Down East, they want to be part of the extended community that will see these families and their friends through these unknown places, and we welcome their hearts into ours. We know that we will hold strong together with the help of all who share the burden of this tremendous loss for our community.

A Down East mother who lost her child to another tragic moment once told me, “the healing is in the giving” as she and her family faced a new world beyond the pain of losing their son, their shining star and all their dreams. I have thought of those words often over the years and especially during the past four days. It IS how we heal, how we move on, how we face the future without the people we love, and in this case, these young men, who like the others we have lost too soon.

Down East has had more than its share of losses. Maybe it feels this way because we know each other too well, we are too connected, we are too engrained in each other’s lives. Maybe that’s the price we pay for being who – and whose – we are, with deep roots that have connected us, even before we were born.  Maybe …

And if so, that is our strength and our blessing as we stand together, safe in that inheritance of love and reassurance.


The Core Sound Museum, with the approval of all the Down East families involved with Sunday’s plane crash, has established a Core Sound Family Fund for the victims of this tragic accident.

This financial support will go to help meet expenses and other family needs associated with this disaster. Funds received will be held in a special agency account and disbursed as needed to each family.

Contributors will receive an authorized receipt for their nondeductible donations.  Immediate family members will receive a full accounting of monies received and disbursements made.

The museum will continue to respectfully help the people of Down East Carteret County in the weeks and months ahead. We are thankful for the outpouring of support locally and from across the region.

Contributions can be made online or by mail to CSWM, Family Fund, P.O. Box 556, Harkers Island, NC  28531.