Witness Meeting...Tears And Tales
Commentary By Howard Schwach
They came to the meeting at the Beach Club on Wednesday night for many reasons.
About 45 people came because they witnessed the last moments of Flight 587 before it crashed into Belle Harbor.
Another 25 people came because one or more of their family members were on the flight, headed for the Dominican Republic.
Thirty more were Rockaway residents who were impacted by the crash, who live in the neighborhood or who had found pieces of the aircraft far from the crash scene.
A dozen or so were aircraft experts, pilots, airframe mechanics, flight dynamics specialists, all brought to the meeting by Vic Trombettas, a computer systems expert who maintains a website at www.usread.com that had detailed the crash and the problems with the NTSB's investigation of that crash.
Another 25 were residents who just wanted to hear what was to be said about the crash.
Also present were a representative of Congressman Anthony Weiner, City Councilman Joe Addabbo and Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer.
Some agencies chose not to come. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) was not at the meeting. Neither was the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA). I wish that a representative of the NTSB had been present to listen to those who detailed what they had seen. Perhaps then, they would not have been so quick to tell the world that eyewitness testimony about an accident is "subjective" and "unreliable."
Standing alone was Stan Molen, who came from Pennsylvania for the meeting. His son, Sten, was at the controls of the plane when it took off from JFK that November morning in 2001.
Although they came for different reasons, they all had one aim in mind, to learn something about why flight 587 corkscrewed in the intersection of Beach 131 Street and Newport Avenue.
At least 25 people spoke at the meeting. Their stories were all slightly different, a point that the NTSB uses to discredit them.
There are reasons for the differences, however. Some people saw the plane from the east, some from the west. Others saw it for mere seconds while still other saw the drama unwind for 20 seconds of more.
Some saw only the starboard side of the plane, others only the port side.
Some saw flame and smoke, others did not. Some saw pieces fall from the plane, others did not.
The NTSB's attitude and the attitude of others who do not trust eyewitness testimony is fed by the fact that the eyewitnesses cannot agree on one story.
When The Wave first proposed holding the meeting, we were told by a local politician that "you're going to get every kook in Rockaway at that meeting."
While there were one or two theories expounded at the meeting that were not commonly held by the group, there were no "kooks" at this meeting.
There were just people who saw the plane in the air and told the audience what they had seen.
There were common threads that ran throughout all the statements.
Stories of seeing a plane in trouble, of hearing an explosion before they saw the plane in extremis, stories of watching a plane disintegrate in the air, of seeing it corkscrew into the ground as they chanted, "hit the water, hit the water."
Anybody present at the meeting as I was could not classify anybody who spoke as a "kook," There were ex-police officers, ex-firefighters, women in their homes, off-duty stewardesses, men and women on their way to work, people jogging on the boardwalk, ordinary people who saw an extraordinary event.
They know what they saw. For some, it has haunted them for months.
One woman told us her story and that she believed that there was something wrong with her because nobody else seemed to have seen what she saw.
After the meeting, she told me that she was relieved that there were dozens of others who had seen roughly what she did.
Others said the same thing. After being laughed at by the NTSB and the FBI because of their statements, they were relieved that they were not alone.
Yesenia Rivera from Washington Heights spoke about her parents, who were lost on flight 587. She broke into tears over her loss and the frustration of dealing with a government and a media who do not seem to care about the people on the plane. Others in the room shed tears as well.
As they did when Stan Molin spoke about his son and how, as a commercial airlines pilot himself, he had great admiration for the NTSB -- until now, when the agency seems to be on the way to blaming the crash on his son.
There were no "kooks" in the room. There were trained observers who know what they saw and will tell their story to any official who will listen.
The problem is, no officials seem to want to hear what they have to say.