Memorial service marks 20th anniversary of Flight 587 crash in Queens

BELLE HARBOR, Queens (WABC) -- A memorial service was held Friday morning to pay tribute to the victims of American Airlines Flight 587, which crashed in Belle Harbor 20 years ago.

The Airbus A300 was headed to the Dominican Republic but crashed after takeoff from John F. Kennedy International Airport, killing all 260 people on board and five people on the ground in second-deadliest aviation accident in U.S. history.

The location of the crash and the fact that it happened just two months after 9/11 sparked fears of another terror attack, but NTSB investigators said the plane's rudder system and inadequate pilot training caused the crash.

Since the accident, steering systems for some planes have been re-designed.

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Heavy rain and high winds marred Friday's memorial, with a sparse crowd gathered at the memorial on Beach 116th Street.

Mayor Bill de Blasio thanked family members for returning each year to the spot.

"After 20 years, it doesn't matter," he said. "The wind, the rain, you are here to show that love. And I honor you for that."

After showing up late for the ceremonial bell ringing in 2014, de Blasio has arrived on time every year since -- a gesture family members of victims said they have come to appreciate, and they hope Mayor-elect Eric Adams continues the tradition.

They said that despite the near intolerable conditions, they had to attend. They held onto photos and flowers braving the elements in the spot where so many of their loved ones died.

"We still remember," said one attendee, whose brother Orlando Martos died in the crash. "We still remember my brother."

Martos was on his way to the Dominican Republic to see his daughter, and his sister and niece -- who was not even born yet -- paid tribute Friday.

"He was the life in the house, such a funny guy," she said. "We were very close, so we're still missing him like the first day."

Gisela Reyes lost her brother Robert.

"He was a happy person, liked to dance," she said. "He was going to go to visit to see his daughter who was going to turn 2 years old. That was his reason for going that day."

Ana Espina still mourns her mother Petronella.

"It's very hard, because no matter what, 20 years past, we still have pain in our hearts," she said.

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Also Friday, Reps. Adriano Espaillat and Gregory Meeks introduced a resolution in Congress to honor and remember the victims Flight 587.

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"Over 200 lives were lost in merely two-and-a-half minutes on Flight 587, and the tragedy continues to have a lasting impact of the loved ones left behind and our community," Espaillat said. "We stand united in solidarity with the families of the 265 victims of that tragic day and are introducing this resolution to ensure the memories of every single victim and their surviving family members are not forgotten. For them, the crash is still a visceral wound and closure remains elusive. 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."

The memorial is situated beside the Rockaway Beach and Boardwalk at the south end of Beach 116th Street and was dedicated on November 12, 2006, the fifth anniversary of the accident.

"The tragic American Airlines Flight 587 plane crash took place just two months after the September 11th terrorist attacks while our community was already grieving," Meeks said. "The devastation has been felt every single day since and we will always remember the lives of the 265 victims who lost their lives and this resolution will ensure this. I stand with Congressman Espaillat and the loved ones of the victims of Flight 587 and the Belle Harbor Community."

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