2002-09-28 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

By Howard Schwach

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will convene a public investigative hearing on October 29 on the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 into Belle Harbor. There are several disquieting things surrounding the hearing and the coming anniversary of the crash that should be addressed.

First of all, the media has switched emphasis in its coverage from Rockaway to the Dominican community, which lost hundreds of its members in the crash. In recent days, there have been stories about the families that still have not held funerals because the remains of their lived ones have not yet been identified. There have been pre-anniversary stories focusing on the Dominican community as the anniversary of the crash nears.

That is fine with me. The community that lost more than 200 members seems to trump the community that lost five members and a dozen homes.

That does not diminish some of my concerns, however. One of my major concerns comes from the voices, no matter how dim at this point, that are calling for New York City to somehow take the land on Beach 131 Street and Newport Avenue from its owners and to make a memorial park out of it. There was one Dominican woman on CBS radio last week that called for just that thing. She intimated that Rockaway people did not want mourners at the site because of racism and that the city would have to force those who lived on that "hallowed ground" to give up their land for the memorial.

"His soul is there in Rockaway, on that land," the woman said, adding that his body was going back to the Dominican Republic "where it belongs."

Building a large memorial on that land is not going to be an easy thing for the city to do, and I do not believe that racism plays any part in the reluctance of those residents who lived where the plane came down to give up their land for a memorial.

It is, plain and simple, their home. Many of them have lived there for years, their kids were born while they lived there, some of their loved ones died there.

The city cannot ask them to give up their land simply because others want the land for a memorial.

There should be a memorial in Rockaway in memory of those who died when flight 587 crashed last November, both for those on the plane and for those on the ground. Nobody denies that fact. The questions, then, pertain to where it should be and its size. Perhaps, something along the beachfront, or a bench and trees on Newport Avenue. One Rockaway resident said last year, when the Dominican community came to Rockaway for a memorial at Riis Park, that her property was "my home, not a cemetery." Perhaps she was quick to say that at the time, but she is right.

This is much the same issue as the issue at ground zero in Manhattan.

It will not be resolved by taking land from Rockaway residents and turning that land into a memorial for those outside the community.

The second thing that bothers me going on a year after the crash is that the insurance companies and American Airlines have not come through as promised. With the exception of the brick home on the corner of Beach 131 and Newport, which suffered only glass and smoke damage, not one of the homes involved in the crash has been rebuilt. That serves as a constant reminder of the crash and what it meant to the community. Some tell me it is an insurance problem, but others tell me that American Airlines is balking at its promised involvement in the rebuilding of the homes.

It should not take a year to get the process underway.

And, last but not least, the investigation meeting itself looks to be aggravating to anyone who had heard the eyewitnesses tell their stories.

According to the NTSB, there will be five "safety issues" to be investigated, and that boards of experts will be called to give testimony on those five items. They include: the certification standards for the vertical stabilizer and rudder; continuing airworthiness inspection procedures; airplane manufacturer’s rudder system design philosophies; pilot training and the potential role of wake turbulence in the accident sequence.

What’s missing? How about eyewitness testimony? None of that at an NTSB hearing – no unreliable, subjective testimony for that agency.

You can see it coming from Rockaway. The board’s final report will say that the plane was subjected to wake turbulence and that Sten Molin, the pilot of the plane, "flew the tail off" the plane by over controlling the rudder.

In that way, the airlines gets off the hook, Airbus Industries gets off the hook, the FAA gets off the hook and the only one holding the end of the stick are the pilot and people who then have to fly in a dangerous aircraft, one where the plane fishtails quite often and the tail sometimes falls off.

On the first day of the hearing, the entire "docket" of evidence gathered to date will be released.

I’ve already ordered my copy. It should be interesting reading. Fiction usually is.

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