‘Nobody Seems To Care’
By Howard Schwach
Bette Weiser and her son, Sandy, consider themselves lucky. The family home, on the corner of Beach 131 Street and Newport Avenue still stands, which is more than can be said for several homes surrounding theirs. The entire area was devastated by the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 on that corner on November 12, 2001.
"I know that I am not as bad off as some of my neighbors, five of who died in the crash and others who lost everything," Sandy Weiser told a Wave editor at their home shortly after the November 12 memorial service at the site. I have issues with bricks, with sod, with trees. They are dead. They have lost everything."
While they were relatively lucky, 82-year-old Bette Wiser still remains homeless, renting a house nearby until her home, which had extensive damage, is repaired.
That is where their problems begin.
"When this first happened, American Airlines came around and gave us $20 thousand dollars. The rep from the airlines said that they would take care of everything when the time was right," the younger Weiser said. "When they came in and took out all of our yard, all of our trees to dig up the fuel and the body parts that were still in the soil, they told us that it would all be put back the way it was. When our sidewalk was used as a morgue and it was broken up, they said that they would fix it. That was virtually the last we have seen of them, and none of the promised work has been done."
"They said that the airlines would take care of the difference between out insurance and our actual costs," he added.
Weiser says that shortly after the crash, workers hired by the airlines dug up some of their lawn, but did not finish the work. When the youngest son, David, went to talk to them about it, Weiser says, the workers got belligerent.
"David took a shovel and quickly unearthed some pieces of human bone. You could smell the fuel all over the area," Weiser says. "The workers said that it was a chicken bone and that all the fuel was gone. They called the police and had him arrested – in his own home."
As a case in point, Weiser showed The Wave around the front yard of the home – a mixture of dirt and burned-out trees and shrubbery. He told us that the estimate to fix the yard up to where it was before the crash would cost upwards of $50 thousand.
"We were first told that they would restore it fully, then we were told it would be taken care of after all of our insurance issues were dealt with. Now, just today, we were offered $10 thousand to settle," Weiser points out.
Because the damage to her home was the result of an airplane crash, the law suits arising by those on the plane are controlled by a national convention called the Warsaw Pact. Those who were on the ground and faced losses, however must sue in a state-controlled super-court that will hear all of the cases at one time.
"If this were in Queens Supreme Court, we could get it taken care of relatively quickly," Weiser said. "Under present law, it could take years for this to be adjudicated and our basic insurance issues will be weighed against the cases of those who lost their lives."
On the day of the crash, Weiser was asleep in her second-floor bedroom when the plane hit right next-door. She awoke disoriented from all of the smoke and fire around her. The ceiling of her bedroom was on fire. She knows that two neighbors climbed up on a ladder and helped her to get out. She remembers that her housekeeper escaped with only a towel wrapped around her body. She remembers little else about the experience.
Weiser says that Mayor Giuliani abdicated the city’s responsibility by turning over the cleanup and recovery task to American Airlines. He is angry because nobody from the city ever came to the house to ask his mother, "are you okay? Do you need anything?"
"The mayor turned everything over to American Airlines, and they did things without asking, without anybody knowing what they were doing," he adds. "The least they can do now is keep their promises and let my mother go back to her home."
A random check with a number of others who lost homes at the crash scene revealed their ire at American Airlines for broken promises as well.
A call to Dale Norgard, a risk management specialist with American Airlines and the man charged with the responsibility for the crash site, went unreturned.