2004-11-19 / Front Page

Permanent Memorial For AA 587 Draws Ire Of Family Members

Shortly after Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that the city would begin planning a design for a permanent memorial to those who died in the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 in November of 2001, a memorial that would be built at Beach 116 Street, dozens of family members who came to Rockaway for the third anniversary of the crash displayed their anger with the Mayor’s plan by angrily throwing hundreds of yellow roses on the lawn and front porch of the newly-built home at the crash site — the corner of Beach 131 Street and Newport Avenue in Belle Harbor.

“It’s a lovely house,” Angela Martinez, who lost three relatives on the flight told reporters at the site. “But it’s in a cemetery. “

“It’s ridiculous. It’s impossible,” said Minerva Hernandez as she looked at the new home. “Two Hundred and Sixty-five people died here and they build a house. I don’t agree with that. I don’t know how people can live in a house where people have died.”

“The memorial should be right here. The site they picked is not appropriate, it is not a proper place,” said James Monte, who lost his sister, Diane in the crash and has been in Rockaway many times since 2001. Monte stood under his umbrella in the pouring rain and spoke with reporters.. “The site they picked is not peaceful. People loiter there. It’s disrespectful [to put a memorial in that area].”

“They could have found a better place for the memorial” Monte added, pointing to Beach 129 and the bayfront as one example. “They can build it there, but I will be here [at Beach 131 Street] every year.”

The controversy about the mayor’s announcement flies in the face of the official city position, stated by the Commissioner of the city’s Department of Immigrant Affairs, Guillermo Linares, who told The Wave earlier that “80 to 85 percent” of those who sent back responses to a city poll of family members agreed that the memorial should be at Beach 116 Street. A reporter at the scene at the anniversary, however, was hard-put to find one family member that did not still want the memorial at the Beach 131 Street site.

Linares told Wave that being at the site changed some hearts and minds.

“You had to notice the pain and difficulty of the moment at the site, on that particular day,” Lineras told The Wave. “Just seeing the property where their loved ones died pushed the emotions of the family members so high that they reacted emotionally”

“It was their hearts speaking,” Linares added. “This [the crash] has changed their lives forever.”

The commissioner said that the memorial “needs to be in a place where the community embraces it,” adding that the Beach 116 site has many advantages, including the fact that it is already park land belonging to the city.

“That the land belongs to the Parks Department will expedite the building of the permanent memorial,” he said.

According to Lineras, American Airlines will “commit to help the memorial be built,” but that there will be a fundraising effort as well. He expects the memorial to be ready for the 2006 anniversary of the crash.

A number of sites, including Beach 129 Street, Tribute Park and Beach 108 Street along the bay were mentioned as possible sites for the memorial.

Bloomberg, however, rejected all of the options but the Beach 116 site.

“We have identified a site where we will be able to gather, to reflect and to remember,” Bloomberg said in making the announcement.

He said that the monument would rise on a grassy turn-around at the end of a cul-de-sac about a mile away from the crash site.

A number of Belle Harbor residents were present at the memorial as well. Several spoke with The Wave about an on-site memorial, but asked not to be identified.

“If we say that the memorial should be elsewhere, we’re branded as racists,” one local man said. “It is proper to build homes here. This is not a cemetery.”

“It is true that people died here, but this is not a cemetery – nobody is buried here,” said another local. “We do not need a constant reminder of what happened here. The property is private and people have a right to rebuild both their homes and their lives.”

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