Hundreds of people, many weeping and some holding photos of lost loved ones, stood under umbrellas Friday in the quiet Queens neighborhood where Flight 587 crashed three years ago.
“I’m here as a way of saying that I love her,” said Pedro Munoz, 35, who lost his wife, Yanelly Martinez, 24.
Altogether, 265 people died when American Airlines Flight 587 went down in residential Belle Harbor on Nov. 12, 2001, just after the jet took off from John F. Kennedy Airport on its way to the Dominican Republic.
At the ceremony, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced plans for a permanent memorial about 15 blocks from the crash site.
“We will never forget the tragedy of Flight 587,” Bloomberg said. “The sense of sadness never goes away, but the memories fortify us.”
Gov. George Pataki noted that the crash happened only two months after the Sept. 11 attacks.
“There’s nothing more painful than the unexpected and sudden loss of a loved one,” Pataki said. “But in the same way that our great city found the strength to endure its darkest hour, you found the strength to survive yours.”
A pain that never vanishes
Many of those gathered held white or yellow roses, and some were wrapped in blankets provided by the Red Cross as they stood in a steady drizzle.
“The pain is the same as it was three years ago,” said Tricia Mills, the sister of flight attendant Michele Mills, 46.
The crash devastated two close-knit communities — the Dominican-American enclave of Washington Heights in upper Manhattan and Belle Harbor, an oceanfront area just south of the airport that is home to firefighters and other city workers. Most of those aboard the flight were Dominicans traveling to visit their homeland or to see relatives, while five victims were killed on the ground.
The Airbus A300 crash was the second-worst aviation accident in U.S. history, after the 1979 crash of an American Airlines flight at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport that killed 275 people.
The National Transportation Safety Board ruled last month that turbulence prompted the co-pilot of Flight 587 to aggressively move the rudder back and forth to try to steady the plane. The movement put excessive pressure on the tail, tore off its vertical fin and sent the plane plunging to earth. Primarily blaming the co-pilot, the NTSB also ruled that the plane’s overly sensitive rudder controls and the airline’s inadequate pilot training contributed to the accident. The NTSB split on which secondary factor was more important.
The decision prompted angry reaction from Airbus Industrie, which manufactured the plane, and American Airlines, which trained the co-pilot. Each said the other deserved more blame.
City officials had been trying to relieve tensions that emerged between victims’ relatives and residents over the location of a memorial. Most relatives wanted a memorial at the crash site, while many residents said they would prefer not to have it in their neighborhood.