20 Years On, US' 2nd-Deadliest Plane Crash Still Hits Hard

Memorials mark anniversary of November 2001 tragedy out of JFK airport
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 12, 2021 11:45 AM CST
20 Years On, US' 2nd-Deadliest Plane Crash Still Hits Hard
This photo shows the recovery of the vertical stabilizer from Flight 587.   (Wikimedia Commons/NTSB)

In three minutes, 265 people lost their lives: the 260 people aboard Flight 587, which had taken off from New York City's JFK Airport, and five people on the ground in the Belle Harbor neighborhood of Queens' Rockaway peninsula, where the plane crashed in an eruption of fire and smoke. It was Nov. 12, 2001, two months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and the nation was not in a place to accept what NBC News describes as the second-deadliest plane crash in its history. It "evoked terrible memories of the earlier horror of jets slamming into the Manhattan skyline," Newsday reported in the aftermath. "It was the cruelest of ironies that the Queens neighborhood, which lost scores of residents in the World Trade Center attacks, was hit again."

Any sense of normalcy that had returned to the city's Dominican American community evaporated in a flash. About 90% of the passengers aboard Flight 587, headed to the Dominican Republic, were of Dominican descent, per NBC. "With 9/11, all New Yorkers and Americans went through grief and trauma together," Ramona Hernández, director of the Dominican Studies Institute at the City College of New York, told NBC last year. "Then the Dominican community experienced an additional, large-scale catastrophe." The National Transportation Safety Board eventually found a pilot had put too much pressure on a rudder pedal after the plane encountered wake turbulence. That, combined with a fault in the plane, meant the vertical stabilizer detached along with the tail and both engines.

"No matter how many anniversaries pass us by, we must never forget the magnitude of this loss and the impact it will forever have on the lives of countless families across the country," Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-NY, the first Dominican American elected to Congress, said in a Friday statement. "For them, the crash is still a visceral wound and closure remains elusive." He added he would introduce a congressional resolution "to ensure the memories of every single victim and their surviving family members are not forgotten." Several memorial services took place Friday, including at the Belle Harbor memorial wall which carries the names of each victim. Despite heavy rain and high winds, "you are here to show that love," NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio told the crowd, per WABC. "And I honor you for that." (Read more New York City stories.)

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