Hundreds Jam Newport For Flight 587 Memorial
Hundreds of mourners, bystanders, and media representatives crammed into the corner of Beach 131 Street and Newport Avenue early Wednesday morning to remember the 265 people who died when American Airlines Flight 587 crashed into Belle Harbor on November 12, 2001.
Late on Tuesday, in preparation for the ceremony, a small plaque was placed into the sidewalk nearby a newly-planted tree right off the corner as a small memorial to those who died.
Judging by the speeches made at the forty-minute memorial ceremony and by the comments of the family members who came to the ceremony, a larger and more permanent memorial may soon come to Rockaway.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who addressed the crowd in both English and Spanish and then led a procession to St. Francis de Sales Church just blocks away from the crash site, said in his remarks that "the victims deserve a fitting memorial in Rockaway," and that he would see that it would get done.
"When I went to Benin in the Dominican Republic to honor those who died in the crash, I remarked on what a wonderful memorial they had there. We can do no less here in New York," the mayor said.
Earlier in the day, an argument broke out between representatives of Mayor Bloomberg and representatives of Congressman Anthony Weiner, who represents Rockaway and has been negotiating a compromise between the Belle Harbor community and the families of the victims.
Weiner had planned to hold a "press availability" an hour prior to the service, but not all the politicians who were to face the press showed up on time. As the ceremony neared, a mayoral aide told all the reporters that they had to go immediately to the press risers across from the stage. When told that Weiner was going to hold a press availability, she told his aides that they had no right to do it at that time without the mayor’s permission.
Weiner’s aide retorted that she worked for a Congressman and did not need the mayor’s permission for anything.
While Weiner had been planning to join a number of Hispanic legislators in making an announcement about a permanent memorial, a mayoral aide told The Wave, "Weiner will have nothing to do with the final decision on a permanent memorial."
Weiner’s office, however, issued a statement in which they said, "Congressman Weiner, along with leaders from both Rockaway and Washington Heights, discussed plans for a permanent memorial to the victims of Flight 587."
"For the past several months," he added, "I have met extensively with representatives of the families of Flight 587, residents of Belle Harbor and leaders from Rockaway and Washington Heights, to address a host of delicate issues arising from the crash. The placement of a permanent memorial to the victims has been the subject of hours of careful and deliberate discussion."
"Today, on the second anniversary of the crash, we stand together, unified in our commitment to finding an appropriate permanent location for a memorial to the victims. I fully expect that through our continued cooperation, we will be able to announce a plan that pays appropriate tribute to the memory of those lost, while respecting the unique character of Belle Harbor. We would have liked to do so today. We will do so in the near future."
The ceremony itself, often held in drenching rain, was opened with an invocation by Monsignor Martin Geraghty, the pastor of St. Francis de Sales Church in Belle Harbor. His invocation, both in Spanish and in English, set the tone for other speakers.
The Collect Choir sang the American and Dominican national anthems and then Mayor Bloomberg made some remarks, often lapsing into accented Spanish. Karen Tavarez, whose mother died on the flight, read a note that she had left prior to getting on the plane.
As the bells of St. Francis de Sales tolled several times, the sun came out and the choir sang "Ave Maria."
A prayer and benediction was offered by Father Brian Jordan of St. Francis of Assisi in Manhattan.
At that point, a procession to the church was to begin, but family members argued loudly that the names of those who died should be read, and they were.
The mayor then led the procession to St. Francis de Sales on Beach 129 Street.
One mourner told The Wave that it was unfair for the local residents to rebuild on the crash site.
"That is like a cemetery," she said. ‘You would not build a home on a cemetery."
A Rockaway resident who asked not to be identified, however, argued that the families should stop coming to the site once and for all.
"My mother died in a hospital," she said. "I don’t go to the hospital to mourn her and remember her. I go to the cemetery where she is buried. These people should do the same."