When American Airlines Flight 587, heading toward the Dominican Republic on November 12, 2001, took off it was on a day as clear with a sky as blue as was the day two months previously, September 11, 2001, when the terrorist attacks took place. On such days there is complacency, almost an inherent feeling, that all will be well when getting on a plane. Unfortunately, shortly after taking off from New York’s JFK International Airport, Flight 587 slammed into Belle Harbor, Queens, killing 260 people on board and five people on the ground.
Yesterday there was a ceremony at the memorial on Beach 116th Street (NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg attended), though hardly covered in the media . There was a story in the New York Daily News, and I did hear radio reports about it, but the quiet was almost deafening for me. Maybe because I’m a New Yorker who lost people on 9-11, or maybe because I recall thinking that day that the terrorists did it again, but this crash is like lots of other plane crashes including the ones that took down the World Trade Center – most people in power (and certainly the airlines) wish we would just forget that they ever happened because, quite frankly, it’s just not good for business.
If you take the subway to Beach 116th Street, come out of the station and turn left, you can walk down a rather interesting street that is the heart of the area known as the Rockaways. Once dubbed the “Irish Riviera” due to all the people of that nationality who lived in the area, now Beach 116th Street is home to a beautiful memorial to those who perished in the crash of Flight 587. On quiet days in the autumn you can basically visit there alone, seeing the names of those who perished etched in the stone and looking up at the ocean in all its tranquility.
It is an odd place for a memorial, wedged between street and boardwalk and sea, and yet it is fittingly aerodynamic, as if it will take off with the wind. Perhaps that’s the point of its construction, to feel some spirituality as you stand on what seems to be almost the edge of the city, looking out on the horizon that regrettably the plane never reached.
The public explanation of why the plane crashed is that it was the “first officer’s overuse of rudder controls” in the “wake of a Japanese Airlines plane” that had taken off before it. I guess someone will see me as a conspiracy theorist, but if I were a family member of anyone who died that day I would still question this official story. It was so close to 9-11 – too close for comfort if you ask me – and there would have to be many reasons why a terrorist action would have to be downplayed or even covered up. Imagine the reaction of the public if another terrorist group had managed to take over a plane so soon after 9-11? It’s easy to see why that fact would have been suppressed to ease fears and to keep the airline business from shutting down yet another time.
Still, for me there is the simple truth of loss. 260 souls didn’t get where they were headed – they went from going on vacation or going to see relatives to the next world. Whatever happened that day – whether it was terrorism or not – it is the loss of human beings who deserve to be recognized and remembered. For all those who saw those people off at the airport and those who were waiting for a plane in Santo Domingo that never arrived, this day will live in infamy just as 9-11 does, and maybe now they wait for justice or a truth that will never come.
Perhaps the fact that it happened so shortly after 9-11 is a coincidence, and maybe we will never know. Despite all the recovered black boxes and official stories, since 9-11 I view every plane crash differently. I suspect everything and everyone, and quite frankly I still get shaken when I see a plane in the sky, especially over New York City. I don’t care how many years have passed and how many times I’ve been told to “get over it,” because I am never going to get over it until the day I die.
For now I want to recognize the victims and their families of American Airlines Flight 587 that crashed on November 12, 2001. I also wish to remember those five people who died on the ground. None of you should be forgotten, and the ceremony is something to acknowledge your loss and suffering. I know that family members and friends of the victims all have no choice but to never forget, even though it will sometimes seem that other people wish you did.
Photo credit – plane and firefighters-NY Daily News; 9-11 flag-AP