2013-11-08 / Top Stories

Memorial Service Marks Flight 587 Anniversary

By Dan Guarino

It has been 12 years since American Airlines Flight 587, bound for the Dominican Republic, came down in Belle Harbor. On Tuesday, November 12th, the anniversary of the fatal flight will be marked with a ceremony at the Flight 587 Memorial at Beach 116th Street and the boardwalk starting at 8 a.m.

By 8:15 a.m. families of the victims and other invited guests are expected arrive. Among the invited are Mayor Michael Bloomberg, as well as other elected officials and community leaders.

At 9 a.m. there will be a prayer, followed by the reading of the names of those lost that day.

Music will play as the names of all those who perished, both on the flight and on the ground in Rockaway, are read aloud.

A moment of silence will be observed at 9:16 sharp, the exact moment Flight 587 went down twelve years ago.

From Beach 116th Street the group will gather at Beach 131st Street and Newport Avenue, the site of the crash, for reflection and the conclusion of the ceremony.

Residents are advised that due to the memorial service there will be no parking on Beach 116th Street from Newport Avenue to Ocean Promenade from 5 a.m. to 12 noon on November 12th, and no parking or traffic on Beach 116th Street from Rockaway Beach Boulevard to the boardwalk from 3 a.m. to 12 noon.

On Monday, November 12th, 2001, Veterans Day weekend, the Airbus A300B4-605R type aircraft took off from John F. Kennedy International Airport in Jamaica, Queens with 251 passengers and nine crew members aboard. The American Airlines flight was bound for Las Américas International Airport in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) report Flight 587 took off on the same runway directly after a Japan Airlines Boeing 747-400.

Upon encountering turbulence from the large plane’s wake, the first officer attempted to stabilize 587 by aggressively maneuvering the rudder of the American Airlines craft. The NTSB concluded that what followed was due to his actions. The stress created by the rudder movements against the air flow eventually snapped the tailfin off the plane entirely.

Within minutes the plane lost control over Jamaica Bay and crashed. A New York Times account described “chunks of metal as big as car doors showered at least a five-block radius of Belle Harbor, bouncing off homes and streets. Part of one of the plane’s engines landed in a boat parked in the driveway of a house; much of the other engine fell in the lot of a Texaco station (on Beach 129 Street) A vertical tail fin tumbled into Jamaica Bay.”

On the ground five people were killed and several homes were destroyed or damaged.

Interviewed in the Daily News last year, fireman Robert Rocelle, who lived just a few houses away, recalled, “We heard a loud noise . . . and then a few seconds of silence.”

“All of a sudden, the house shook. Stuff was flying off the walls. My kids dove under the table,” he remembered. “I thought somebody dropped a bomb on us.” He immediately put on his gear and headed in the direction of the flaming crash site on Beach 131st Street.

Ironically that morning Rocelle had been getting ready to leave for the funeral of a fellow firefighter who died on 9/11. Many Rockaway and Broad Channel residents were still dealing with the September 11th loss of so many community members when AA Flight 587 dropped from the sky barely two months later.

Further binding together these two tragedies, it was reported that two months prior to boarding the ill-fated flight, 26 year old passenger Hilda Yolanda Mayol was working at a restaurant at the ground floor of the World Trade Center and escaped before the buildings collapsed.

Linda Ruscillo, whose husband, Danny Ruscillo is the president of the 100th Precinct Community Council, says she has many personal thoughts attached to the day of the crash “that are still alive, especially on November 12th of every year. We woke hearing a loud sound, at the time we thought it was the Concord, which was functioning at that time. Looking out the window we first believed it was very foggy, then realized it was smoke.”

“Danny rushed out the door…he did not return for some time. Eventually (he) returned, told us what had happened and what he had seen. Papers falling from the air. They were on fire. Pieces of tar balls.

“The area was closed down,” she said, “My nephew’s Mom was very upset, the only way he could return home was by walking the beach.”

“At first many residents believed it was terrorism, since it happened not long after the Twin Towers. A very tragic and scary time.”

Reflecting on the terrorist attacks, the crash and now Hurricane Sandy, Ruscillo said poignantly, “Rockaway has been through so very much. So many still suffering one way or another....”

In all, the crash took the lives of people from the United States, the Dominican Republic, Taiwan, France, Haiti, Israel and Great Britain.

In 2006 a memorial was dedicated to their memory on the fifth anniversary of the crash. Designed by Dominican artist Freddy Rodriguez and Situ Studio, its door and windows face out over the Atlantic Ocean, looking towards the distant shores of the Dominican Republic.

The simple words, inscribed above the names of all the victims, quote Dominican poet Pedro Mir. They read “Después no quiero más que paz.” / “Afterwards I want nothing more than peace.”

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