Even after 19 years since the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 in the Rockaways on Nov. 12, 2001, the emotions of the families left behind remains as raw as the rainy, cold weather experienced at the annual memorial service held Thursday.
Families and elected officials gathered once again for the anniversary of that fateful crash in Belle Harbor, Rockaway, that killed 260 passengers and crew. The crash had occurred nearly seven weeks after the 9/11 attacks, and it forced first responders combing the remains of the World Trade Center site to rush to Queens and respond to the latest tragedy.
Every year since, the ceremony has been held at a memorial constructed on Beach 116th Street, near where the plane went down, and has become a mecca for families and friends to visit to remember those lost and to memorialize the passengers by reading their names.
Flight 587 was in route to the Dominican Republic, and many of those on board the doomed airline hailed from large Dominican communities areas of the Bronx and upper Manhattan..
At exactly 9:15 a.m., a bell tolled by a firefighter marked the moment the plane crashed into a home. A moment of silence follows, with many still shedding tears for those they lost.
Mourners sat in the rain as the names were read. Also speaking was Mayor Bill de Blasio who was accompanied by Eligio Jaquez, the Consul General for the Dominican Republic, where many of those who were killed had immigrated from and had family.
“We want to let our loved ones know that where ever they are, we still miss them,” said Belkis Lora, who read some of the names of those killed, including her brother Jose Francisco Lora, who she still mourns.
“This day is pretty painful for us, but we have to honor their memories,” Belkis sighed.
Mayor de Blasio called the memorial a “source of hope and comfort” to those who lost loved ones.
“Even with the challenges of the coronavirus, we still come here, we still come together in solidarity with each other, feeling the love and support for each other,” de Blasio said. “You think back to the time of the crash, we think of when you heard on the news – we always hoped we would never see anything like it again. The fact that you are still here, you share the loss and the love for each other – a reminder of the strength people have to endure while remembering those they’ve lost.”
Though it was initially feared that Flight 587 was brought down intentionally, a National Transportation Safety Board investigation revealed that “aggressive use of the rudder that snapped off the vertical stabilizer” causing the plane engines to separate and then dive into a house.
Yvette Cecaris sat with her best friend’s daughter Kiana George; her mom Lialette Yesenia Batista Ramirez died in the crash. Kiana was only 5-year-old at the time of the crash.
“She was on the plane with her newlywed husband, so every year for support, I come, she wants to come – but she has no memory of her mother,” she said as they sat under an umbrella waiting for the ceremony. “Rain, sleet, no matter the weather, we come. I was just telling her, it does get easier for some of us – some of us are still holding on. This is something that I feel I need to do.”
“I’m her friend and I come for her son, she does not want to forget,” said Rafaella Rojas, who came with her friend Olga Sanchez to honor her son Feliz Antonio Sanchez, 28. “She wants to keep remembering her because she loved him so much.”
After the reading of the names and speeches, the mourners joined the mayor and consul general laying a wreath at the memorial. Mourners then put flowers into the memorial.
Nearby was Nannette Forteza, whose husband Anthony Salvador Forteza Garcia was on board Flight 587 hoping to visit family in his native Domincan Republic. She stood Thursday looking out toward the Atlantic Ocean, clutching red roses.
“I will never forget the love of my life,” she wept while staring out into the rainy sky.