Flight 587 Families Welcome At Tribute Park
The Rockaway community has formally offered a portion of the Rockaway Tribute Park on Beach 116 Street and Beach Channel Drive to the families of those who died when American Airlines Flight 587 crashed into Belle Harbor on November 12, 2001.
"We believe that it is time to begin a conversation about designating a portion of Tribute Park to honor the lives that were lost on November 12," says a joint letter from Jonathan Gaska, the chair of the Committee for Tribute Park and the District Manager of Community Board 14 and John Lepore, the president of the Rockaway Chamber of Commerce. "As a community, we are extending an offer to include in our park, tribute to the victims of AA Flight 587."
"This park has been designed to be a tranquil and serene location overlooking beautiful Jamaica Bay," the letter continues. "In actuality, it is the one location in Rockaway from which the entire flight path taken by flight 587 on that fateful day can be viewed in an atmosphere of solace, reflection and renewal."
While Tribute Park may well be tranquil, the battle over the inclusion of the victims of AA Flight 587 in the park will probably be contentious.
A number of family members of those who died at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 have indicated that the park, designed as a tribute to those who died that day, should remain for that purpose only.
"The Tribute Park was built as a memorial to those who died in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center," one parent of a firefighter who died on 9/11, said. "This is an entirely different thing. That was a terrorist attack, this is an accident. They do not belong together."
The parent asked not to be identified because he believes that he will be tarred as "anti-Hispanic" for his comment.
Although the letter does not specify the type of tribute to be offered the families of flight 587, the two officials indicated at an earlier meeting that was held at the Beach Club on a Sunday morning that,although the offer would include a specific area of the park, it was not clear at press time as to what form the 587 tribute would take.
Congressman Anthony Weiner, who has been negotiating with the families on behalf of the Belle Harbor community almost since the beginning, thinks that this is a good start.
"I hope that this generous and compassionate offer will pave the road to an agreement that satisfies both the families and the Belle Harbor community," Weiner said. "We need to memorialize those who brought us together."
Hector Algarroba, who lost both his mother and father in the crash, does not agree with Weiner, He does not believe that a space in Tribute Park is the answer.
"The families are not going to go for inclusion in a park dedicated to another tragedy," he told The Wave. "This is the second largest aviation accident in American history and its memorial needs to be respected."
Algarroba spent November 12 not at the memorial service in Rockaway, but in the Dominican Republic.
He said that there was a well-attended mass for family members at the First Cathedral of The New World in Santo Domingo.
The President of the Dominican Republic had declared the day "forever in the memory of the 265 people who died on November 12, 2001 in Belle Harbor."
There was also a later memorial service and cultural event at Benin, where stands a memorial to flight 587 that was built by Algarroba’s HHS Foundation.
Algarroba says that neither Weiner nor any of the Congressmen from Washington Heights can decide what the memorial will be.
"This is between the families and the Belle Harbor community," he said. "The mayor and governor can take a hand, but nobody else will have a say."
While Algarroba would not speculate on what the families would accept, other family members have indicated that they are pushing the mayor to approve the strip of bayfront land from Beach 126 to Beach 129 Street for a "fitting memorial."
The Rockaway community’s letter ends with a hope that "all parties can work together on this issue and agree upon a tribute which will be both mutually acceptable and appropriately respectful to those who were so tragically taken from us."
There are many in both Rockaway and in the Dominican community who believe that it will be difficult at best to fulfill that hope.