Destruction rained from the New York sky once again on the early Monday morning of Nov. 12, when an Airbus A-300 jetliner plowed into the residential area of Belle Harbor in Far Rockaway, killing all 260 people on board and at least six on the ground.
Only three minutes after takeoff, American Airlines Flight 587 turned the quiet residential area into an inferno, scattering debris, bodies and blazing jet fuel over the six blocks of mostly private housesand the Atlantic Ocean.
Eyewitnesses were aplenty, as people preparing to enjoy their Veterans Day time-off were forced instead to either run for their lives or help their neighbors do the same. Or simply, observe the horrors of the new disaster coming so close on the heels of Sept. 11.
"The plane looked like it just dropped," said Gail Allen, a resident of Beach 130 St. "It was in flames, falling down. [When it hit], the whole block shook."
"I saw the plane 40 feet overhead, and then something came off the plane," said Mike Shapiro, who lives on Beach 130 St. "It came lower and lower, and then, boom. I felt the vibration of the impact from two and a half blocks away."
A shock wave from the collision was strong enough to confuse some of the residents.
"When the house shook, I told my daughter we had just experienced an earthquake," said Kim OByrne, another local resident. "When I got out on the street though, I saw the flames and the smoke and I just said, Oh God."
"I heard a loud, loud rumble," said Rosalie Rothenberg, who was in her house on Beach 138 St. when the plane hit the ground. "Then the electricity went out." When she made it outside, "people ran frantically down the street and houses were on fire," Rothenberg recalled.
"It was the loudest sound Ive ever heard in my life," said Amy Novella, a resident of Beach 124 St, recalling the noise of the crash. "I live four blocks away [from the point of impact], and our house still shook violently. When I looked out the window, I saw smoke coming down the block."
Saud Aziz was raking leaves in front of his home when he saw the plane seemingly disintegrate in mid-air, with the fuselage corkscrewing into the ground.
"The plane just spiraled down and set the neighborhood on fire," Aziz said.
According to preliminary reports, the plane lost both engines, one of its wings and most of its tale before hitting the ground.
The doomed aircraft decimated the houses it hit directly and set the adjacent structures, cars and even trees on fire. Falling debris did additional damage in a wider area.
"As I approached the scene, there was vast devastation," said Lee Ielpi, a retired firefighter. "Three or four houses were totally destroyed, another three or four were practically destroyed. The poor unfortunate people on the plane are scattered throughout the area."
Arriving on the site of the crash, Mark Aiken, another area resident, saw nothing but black smoke. Most houses appeared to be in good shape except for six that were fully engulfed in flames.
Sylvia Schneider, who lives on Beach 130 St., came running out into the street after hearing a loud noise.
"It was horrible," she recalled. "The whole block was engulfed in flames. The house next to mine and one across the street were up in flames."
Although the plane went down near the intersection of Newport Ave. and 131 St., large parts of it scattered through the neighborhood, wreaking more havoc. One engine landed inside the Bullocks Texaco station, miraculously missing the gas tanks by mere six feet. Another plowed through the back of a three-story house on Beach 128 St and slammed into a garage, setting it on fire. Parts of the tail assembly, including the virtually intact vertical stabilizer, were pulled out of Jamaica Bay by police and Coast Guard boats.
The arriving emergency medical service teams took the injured to Jamaica Hospital and Rockaways Peninsula Hospital Center.
"The majority of patients suffered from smoke inhalation and small abrasions," said Marian Sandberg, spokesperson for Peninsula Hospital.
Jessica Navay, Patricia Adams and John McLoughlin contributed to this story.