2001-11-24 / Front Page

Meeting On Victim’s Needs Turns To Talk of Flight Paths

By Howard Schwach

Meeting On Victim’s Needs
Turns To Talk of Flight Paths
By Howard Schwach

A meeting that was called to address the needs and problems of the families of those who died in the fiery crash of Flight 587 as well as those who lost their homes, quickly turned into a community protest about flight plans last Monday night at PS 114, only four blocks from where the Airbus tragedy occurred.

"I flew in from the Midwest to be with my mother and to come to this meeting," a representative of one of the people whose home was destroyed in the conflagration, said. "I really thought that I would get information I needed to help her get through this, but all it turned out to be was a demonstration against the present flight paths coming out of the airport."

"I am very disappointed," he added. "Not that the question of flight paths is not important, but that this was not the time or the place to address that issue. This was a time to tell us what we needed to do to get through this."

While the meeting lasted for just under two hours, only five or six minutes were spent addressing those needs.

The tone of the rest of the meeting was set by activist Lew Simon, who angrily challenged the visitors on the panel to "stop making Rockaway JFK’s runway."

The meeting began with a praise of the Belle Harbor community.

"As opposed to being scared and running away from the scene of the crash, Belle Harbor people ran out of their homes to fight the fire," State Senator Malcolm Smith said. "Governor Pataki was so taken with this community that he has promised to make it a priority."

"If ever you’re going to have a first responder emergency, Rockaway is the place to have it," said Congressman Anthony Weiner. "Most of the people who were taken to Peninsula Hospital Center with burns and smoke inhalation were police officers and firefighters, and most of them were off duty when the plane hit."

A number of company officials and agency employees then spoke briefly, offering their condolences and speaking about their areas of expertise.

Jaime Finch, a family service manager with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) told the 500 residents in the audience that the NTSB investigation was now off of the peninsula and in Washington, D.C.

"The wreckage has been moved to a hangar at JFK," he said. "The investigation will continue. It might take between a year to two years to complete."

Ed Campas, a manager for Verizon, told the audience that there were no service outages on the peninsula.
"My phones are out," a woman yelled from the audience.

Chagrined, Campas told the woman to give him her telephone number and he would take care of it.

"The crash took out cables that feed 1,300 homes," he added. "We compressed three week’s work into a couple of hours."

Matt Bromme, the superintendent of Community School District 27, said that there were counseling centers set up at PS 114. The centers will run from 3 p.m. until 7 p.m. each day.

"We want to welcome everybody, young and old, from public or parochial schools to this center," he said.

"Whatever kids need, we will do," Bromme added.

A representative of KeySpan Energy added that a number of his workers, on scene when the plane came down, helped to rescue residents from their burning homes. He added that the company would provide $20 thousand to fund Christmas lights this holiday season.

"I know that this is a small thing," he said, "but I hope that it will make the Christmas season a little merrier here in Rockaway."

Tommy McCall, a customer service expert with American Airlines, spoke of what the airline planned to do to assist the victims, both on the plane and in Belle Harbor.

During the question and answer session, the vast majority of questions focused not on the needs of the victims, but over the future of flights over Rockaway.

Several residents joined Simon in calling for an immediate end to overflights, a curfew that would keep flights from Rockaway in the hours after midnight and a promise that this would not happen again.

"If you want me to say that I can do all of that, I will tell you that I can, but that will not be true," Weiner responded. "We will fight for a curfew such as the one at National Airport in Washington, D.C. and we will push for the legislation to fine airlines that break the rules."

"The fact is, we do not know the flight path that Flight 587 was supposed to fly," Weiner added. "We do know that it was in trouble from the beginning."

According to the NTSB, the site has been turned back to New York City. It is no longer considered an investigation scene by the organization.

According to officials of the 100 Precinct, however, police officers will remain on scene 24 hours a day for the "near term" to keep away those who do not belong in the area.

Weiner promised a follow-up meeting with both the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) and the air traffic controllers to discuss the flight path issue. A date for that meeting has not yet been set.

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