Families Mourn Flight 587 Victims

Woman charged with DWI while driving a golf cart on a rural N.Y. state highway.
Hundreds of mourners gathered Tuesday to mark the first anniversary of the crash of American Airlines Flight 587, marking a moment of silence and taking comfort from a girl's message that their loved ones are "resting from the sorrow and tears."

The plane crashed minutes after taking off for the Dominican Republic, killing all of 260 people on board and five people on the ground in the peaceful Queens neighborhood of Belle Harbor.

Mourners traveled to the site for a moment of silence at 9:16 a.m., the time that the plane crashed moments after taking off from John F. Kennedy International Airport. They linked hands and bowed their heads under a sea of umbrellas in a steady rain. The silence was punctuated with sobs.

Earlier, Mayor Michael Bloomberg opened the ceremony in Jacob Riis Park, about two miles from the site.

"It's a time to remember those who are gone and comfort those who remain. The tremendous loss we suffered on that day a year ago added new burdens to an already grieving city," Bloomberg told the crowd. "And the way the people of our city responded showed the true character of New York City."

He said the tragedy created "a bridge of compassion built between two communities, bringing Dominican Americans and the people of Belle Harbor close together."

About 500 mourners at the park sat or stood under umbrellas; many held white roses and covered themselves with blankets.

Faye Peithman, 14, a resident of Belle Harbor, read a poem: "Just think of them as resting from the sorrow and tears in a place of warmth and comfort, free from dates and years."

Shivering from the wet cold, Cathy Ramirez, 18, of Asbury Park, N.J., clutched two white roses, one for her brother, Joseph, who was 14 when he died, and one for her mother, Maria Perez, 47.

"I miss everything about them. I miss their hugs, I miss them being there for me. I even miss my mom yelling at me," she said.

Her father still can't discuss the crash, she said.

"If I say their names, he'll go crazy. He's still in shock," said Ramirez.

Mourners were to hold a candlelight vigil and several memorial Masses later in Washington Heights, a sliver of Manhattan that is the center of New York's Dominican community.

Ceremonies were also planned in the Dominican Republic, where many of the victims were linked by family and roots. Flight 587 was a shuttle between those worlds — so well-known that a merengue song was written about it that says, in Spanish, "How joyful it could be to go on Flight 587."

The crash also devastated Belle Harbor, a picturesque community that sits on a sandy peninsula separating Jamaica Bay from the Atlantic Ocean. Several houses were leveled, and the deaths of five people on the ground came as residents were already grieving for dozens of their neighbors lost in the World Trade Center attack two months earlier.

While the crash immediately raised fears of terrorism, coming so soon after the Sept. 11 attacks and the anthrax scare, investigators soon ruled it out. They are still grappling with why the Airbus A300-600's rudder suddenly began swerving violently, causing the tail fin to break off.

During a recent hearing in Washington, the National Transportation Safety Board presented evidence suggesting the co-pilot moved the rudder back and forth after encountering turbulence from a jet five miles ahead.

But investigators also still trying to determine whether there was a problem with the rudder itself.

The safety board said it may reach some conclusions by the spring.