For New Yorkers, the unimaginable has become all too commonplace. Sixty-two days after the World Trade Center attack, another plane disaster, a neighbourhood in ruins, still more horror and sorrow. The crash of American Airlines Flight 587 into a beachfront residential area of Queens last week, killing all 260 passengers and crew aboard as well as five people on the ground, was, by all indications, accidental. But in a city where residents have been awash in grief, anger and dread since Sept. 11, the distinction is cold comfort. “IVe never experienced anything like that in my entire life and I hope I never do again,” said Cynthia Caspi, who lives a block from where the bulk of the Dominican Republicbound Airbus A300 hit the ground. “My nine-year-old thought it was bin Laden coming to get him. I looked at his face and it was sheer terror.”
Caspi was in the kitchen making breakfast at the moment of impact and feared the house was coming down around her. Her husband, Jeff, sprinted up the street to check on neighbours and family, only to discover a friends home engulfed in flames, aircraft wreckage and bodies strewn on the lawn. Caspi says her Rockaway neighbourhood, home to many fire and police personnel—by some estimates as many as 95 locals died in the
World Trade Center disaster—has been shaken to the core. “I’ve been to so many memorial services,” she said. “It’s just constant—and now this.”
In Manhattan, another close-knit community was also in mourning. Washington Heights, New York’s main Dominican neighbourhood, lost dozens of residents. Juan Guillen, publisher of Dominican Times magazine, said everybody seemed to know at least one of the victims. For many expatriates, the early-morning New YorkSanta Domingo flight is a crucial link to the homeland, Guillen said; a route so popular that it has been celebrated in a song by Dominican star Kinito Mendez. “It’s about the joy the flight brings when it arrives,” Guillen said.
Investigators recovered both of the Airbus’s black boxes, and their preliminary findings pointed towards a catastrophic structural failure of the plane’s tail, perhaps sped along by the turbulent wake of another jet. Cockpit voice recordings picked up the violent raiding of the plane’s metal airframe and, in the terse description of an investigator, “several comments suggesting loss of control.” For those who were acquainted with the victims, however, knowing the cause does nothing to dull the pain. “It’s still a tragedy,” said Guillen. And, he added, given what New York has already endured, “You say, ‘Jesus, when is this going to end?’ ”
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