2004-11-12 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

There are those who are tired of seeing American Airlines Flight 587 on the front page of The Wave.

“The crash happened almost three years ago,” they say. “Nobody cares any longer about the crash or why it happened.”

That may well be closer to truth than I’d like to believe. The issues where we put the crash on the front page do not sell as well as those that feature murder and mayhem.

“Blood leads,” they say and they might well be right.

The crash of the Airbus A300-66 into Beach 131 Street and Newport Avenue on November 12, 2001, however, is arguably one of the most newsworthy, if not one of the most important Rockaway stories of all time.

In historical significance, it probably ranks right behind the transatlantic flight of the NC-4, also one of the most forgotten events in history.

Despite the fact that the story does not sell well, we continue to feature it for a number of reasons.

First of all, The Wave has long been the “newspaper of record” for Rockaway. Each week we get requests from many people – from legitimate historical researchers to those seeking to build a personal roots database – seeking the use of our archives.

Personally, I have found my birth announcement, my bar mitzvah announcement, stories about my father, who was long associated with the boy scouts and the Knights of Pythias and my mother, who was a school activist long before it became fashionable.

I would expect that people researching the crash of AA 587 ten or twenty years from now would make extensive use of The Wave’s online archives. Those who do should be able to find the entire story over time – from the day of the crash and its impact on Rockaway to the final report and reaction to that report.

That is what a real newspaper does.

Secondly, the AA 587 is really several stories, all of them impacting Rockaway in one way or another.

Of special interest to the Belle Harbor community is the placement of a permanent memorial to the 265 people who died that day, making it the second most deadly aircraft accident in American history.

From the outset, the majority of neighborhood residents stated their opposition to having a memorial at the site of the crash – a dense residential area of one and two-family homes.

“We don’t want our children walking through a graveyard each day on the way to school,” one local said. “A residential area is no place for a memorial to those who died.”

From the outset, the families of the most Dominican victims of the crash demanded that the memorial be at the site of the crash. In fact, they designated the property on the southeast corner of Newport Avenue and Beach 131 Street as the preferred site.

“The souls of our loved ones left the Earth on that property,” one family member told The Wave at the time. “To build a home on that property would be like living in a cemetery.”

Congressman Anthony Weiner stepped in and attempted to broker a deal between the Belle Harbor community and the families of the victims, but to no avail – largely because he got no help from the city.

A few ideas were thrown into the negotiations – a portion of Tribute Park, the memorial park dedicated to those who died on 9/11/01 to be built on Beach 116 Street and Beach Channel Drive; the triangle of land on Beach 128 and 129 Streets between the bay wall and Beach Channel Drive; the area along the bay at Beach 108 Street; a section of Riis Park and the area of land at the traffic circle at the southern end of Beach 116 Street.

A little more than a year ago, the mayor took the play away from Weiner and virtually shut the community out of the equation. His appointees looked at the recommended areas and deleted all but the traffic circle nearby the boardwalk on Beach 116 Street. The families of those who died were asked for their opinion, but the community clearly was not.

Today, there will be a memorial ceremony on Beach 131 Street and Newport Avenue. It will most likely be the last one at the site. Next year, the memorial service is planned for the newly-built permanent memorial at Beach 116 Street. The announcement of the placement of that memorial will be made today.

Then, of course, there are the alternative theories of why the plane crashed. How could The Wave fail to headline the stories of shoe bombers and secret memos, whether we believe them to be the answer to the puzzle or not.

Although the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently found that the plane’s First Officer, Sten Molin, “aggressively and unnecessarily” over controlled the rudder system of the Airbus, ripping the tail from the plane, a quick and admittedly unscientific poll of Rockaway residents reveals that there are more skeptics than believers in this community and in the community of families of the victims as well.

Some, especially those who saw the plane on fire while it was in the air, believe the Canadian newspaper report that a terrorist captured in that nation told security personnel that a shoe bomber named Abderrouf Jdey brought town AA 587.

Others believe that the aircraft itself was fatally flawed. A report in the German news magazine Der Speigel, told of a secret memo that surfaced later on, but was largely ignored by the NTSB.

How could The Wave not print those stories?

There are those who are tired of reading about American Airlines Flight 587. There are others who are fascinated with the mystery associated with the crash.

There are still others for whom the crash was a life-altering event.

The Wave is here to serve the community. Historically, the crash was one of the major events ever to happen on the peninsula.

For that reason, we will continue to cover stories related to the crash of Flight 587 and its aftermath – whether those stories are “sexy” enough to sell lots of papers or not. We owe that to our readers.

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