Daughter pays respects to mother at Flight 587 crash site

Daughter pays respects to mother at Flight 587 crash site
Photo by Christina Santucci
By Christina Santucci

Every Nov. 12, Francisca Diaz travels to Queens to remember her mother, who was one of 265 people killed when Flight 587 crashed into Rockaway in 2001 shortly after taking off from John F. Kennedy International Airport for the Dominican Republic.

This year was no different.

At about 9:30 a.m. Monday, she visited a memorial in Rockaway Park at Beach 116th Street to place a flower close to the engraving of her mother’s name, Petronia Hierro.

“We dedicate this day to remembering her,” Diaz said.

At the time of the American Airlines crash, Diaz’s mother had been traveling alone to visit one of her 12 children in Santo Domingo, who had been badly hurt in a car accident.

“It was hard for him to accept. He was blaming himself for Mommy — for my mom’s death,” Diaz said.

Since 2006, a memorial ceremony has been held at the Rockaway Park site, which is now surrounded by piles of sand, debris and buildings battered by Hurricane Sandy. On the south side, the boardwalk is split in several places and pieces are missing.

To commemorate the 11th anniversary this year, a service attended by Mayor Michael Bloomberg took place at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in the Bronx. But several families — including Diaz’s clan — instead opted to go to Queens, where they took photos of loved ones’ names and walked to the water’s edge. Afterward, some planned to head over to Beach 131st Street in Belle Harbor, the actual crash site.

“I’m surprised no one is here today,” Diaz said.

Diaz said she had been unsure about this year’s memorial plans in the days leading up to the anniversary. She had received an invitation for an event in Queens a while back before the storm struck.

“After Sandy, they never let us know they were going to cancel it,” she said.

Several blocks away at the crash site on Beach 131st Street a single candle and a memorial card for Michelle Mills had been placed in front of a tree on the corner.

In the neighboring streets, the effects of the storm were visible. Several homes had been torched by fire during the hurricane and piles of debris were collected along the curb.

Ray Sullivan, who lives a block away, witnessed both the Flight 587 crash and the deluge and blazes brought on by Sandy.

Eleven years ago, he had been watching Regis Philbin on TV when he heard a plane overhead.

“I thought it was a Concord it was so loud. And then we heard an explosion,” he said.

Sullivan got dressed, went outside and tried to direct traffic.

“They were doing what they could to put out the fire, but it was impossible,” he said.

Of those killed, 260 were aboard the American Airlines plane and another five were on the ground.

Late last month fire once again torched parts of Belle Harbor.

“There were embers coming over towards my house. We were just watching. There was nothing we could do because the water was 6, 8 feet outside,” Sullivan said of a blaze on 131st Street, half a block down from the crash site.

After that fire burned out, the wind shifted, and another one began burning on Beach 130th Street, torching the popular Harbor Light Pub on Rockaway Beach Boulevard and more homes.

“For myself, I lost two cars and my basement, but other people had it much worse,” he said.

Reach photo editor Christina Santucci by e-mail at timesledgerphotos@gmail.com or by phone at 718-260-4589.