American Airlines flight 587 memorial

Saturday, November 11th 2006, 3:52 pm
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) Five years after Katy Batista lost her mother and sister in the crash of American Airlines Flight 587, it's hard for her to look at their pictures, much less visit the site where they died.

Still, she makes her way there every year, even though there are few real physical reminders of the tragedy beyond a plaque.

Soon, the 31-year-old Batista will have another place to mourn.

On Sunday, the fifth anniversary of what was the second-deadliest aviation accident in U.S. history, the city will dedicate a much-anticipated memorial to its victims. The memorial includes a curved wall bearing the names of the 265 people who died, many of whom lived in Washington Heights, the heavily Dominican neighborhood of upper Manhattan.

``Now we can touch their names; we can see their names there,'' said Belkis Lora, president of the Committee in Memory of Flight 587. ``To me, it's like we're going to be onboard the aircraft in that memorial. Once we go to the memorial, we're going to be there with our loved ones.''

Flight 587 plunged into a quiet neighborhood in Queens the morning of November 12, 2001, just minutes after taking off from Kennedy International Airport for a trip to the Dominican Republic. The crash killed the 260 people on board and five people on the ground, rattling a city still shaken by the attacks on the World Trade Center just two months earlier.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined that a crucial part of the tail fell off the Airbus A300, and the agency blamed pilot error, inadequate pilot training and overly sensitive rudder controls.

The road to building a Flight 587 memorial had its stumbling blocks. Many of the victims' families wanted a structure at the scene of the crash, but many people in the Belle Harbor neighborhood opposed the idea, saying a memorial wouldn't fit.

``To come up to my house where a family is living and memorialize it there just it doesn't seem appropriate,'' said Seth Goldberg, whose home was severely damaged by the crash but has been rebuilt.

Others said they didn't want a constant reminder of the tragedy, especially in a part of New York City that also was home to many firefighters who died on September 11th. The bickering got ugly at times, with some claiming racism against Dominicans, a charge denied by residents of the largely Irish and Jewish neighborhood.

Eventually, a compromise placed the structure about 15 blocks away in a less residential area near the ocean. The $9.2 million memorial was designed by Dominican Republic native Freddy Rodriguez and is being funded with private and public money.

``Any conflict that we have in the past and any confrontation that we had in the past, I think it'll stay in the past,'' said Lora, who lost her brother, Jose Lora. ``The families are very comfortable with the situation.''

The memorial wall has windows and a doorway offering views of the Atlantic Ocean. Also included are benches, trees and flowers. Beyond the names, the wall bears a quote, in English and Spanish, from the writings of Dominican poet Pedro Mir: ``Despues no quiero mas que paz/Afterwards I want only peace.''

Peace is exactly what many of the victims' families still seek, Batista said. She'll be searching for it as she looks up the names of Daria Soriano, her mother, and Noemi Batista, her sister, on the memorial wall.

``If I had the chance in my life, if I had the chance to give all the money in the world to bring my mother and my sister back, I would do it,'' she said.