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Memorial service marks 20th anniversary of Flight 587 crash in the Rockaways

Community members and elected officials gathered for the 20th remembrance of the Flight 587 crash in the Rockaways. (Photo credit: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

A small group of family members of the victims of Flight 587 braved an early morning rainstorm Friday, Nov. 12, to attend a memorial service in Rockaway Park, which marked the 20th anniversary of the tragic crash in nearby Belle Harbor.

The American Airlines Airbus A300 took off from John F. Kennedy Airport on the morning of Nov. 12, 2001, with 260 people on board heading to the Dominican Republic. However, the plane crashed into Belle Harbor just three minutes after takeoff, killing five more victims on the ground.

A smaller-than-usual crowd braved a rainstorm and attended to 20th remembrance of the Flight 587 crash in the Rockaways. (Photo credit: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)
Community members and elected officials gathered for the 20th remembrance of the Flight 587 crash in the Rockaways. (Photo credit: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

Mayor Bill de Blasio comforted family members of the victims as they gathered at the Flight 587 Memorial at the north end of 116th Street where bells rang at 9:16 a.m. to mark the moment of impact. Investigators would later determine a broken rudder was to blame after the pilot hit the wake turbulence of a preceding jet and lost control of the aircraft.

“It’s hard to believe 20 years have passed but we all can feel, right here, what it felt like those days just after 9/11, feeling that pain already. And then another tragedy, a tragedy felt from the Dominican Republic all the way here to Belle Harbor,” de Blasio said. “Two-hundred-sixty-five good souls lost. And that pain does not go away, but we still, even amidst the pain, appreciate all the people who came in that moment to try to help — the first responders, the people from the neighborhood who tried to help from that moment on. And then for 20 years since, the way you have all helped each other, you’ve been there for each other. You’ve created a community and out of the pain, you found something so good and noble.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio joined community members for the 20th remembrance of the Flight 587 crash in the Rockaways. (Photo credit: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)
Community members and elected officials gathered for the 20th remembrance of the Flight 587 crash in the Rockaways. (Photo credit: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

The aircraft slammed into the ground at Newport Avenue and Beach 131st Street. The panic on the ground in Belle Harbor was exacerbated by fear of another terrorist strike so soon after the Sept. 11 attacks that brought down the World Trade Center, claiming the lives of so many first responders who lived in the Rockaways.

A moment of silence was observed and the names of the victims were read during the solemn memorial.

“With the horrible tragedy of 9/11 still fresh in our minds, just two short months later New York faced another terrible plane crash when American Airlines flight 587 crashed in Belle Harbor 20 years ago,” state Senator Joseph Addabbo said. “Today we remember the 260 people on the flight, along with the five people on the ground that lost their lives that day, and pray for the family and friends that they left behind.”

The mayor thanked the sparse crowd for attending the remembrance ceremony in such inclement weather.

“After 20 years, it doesn’t matter: The wind, the rain, you are here to show that love,” de Blasio said. “And I honor you for that. Thank you for always being there for each other. Thank you for always remembering. And we will always stand by you. God bless you all.”

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