Hundreds gather in Queens for American Airlines Flight 587 memorial; Mayor arrives late

ROCKAWAY PARK (WABC) -- A somber memorial service was held in Queens Wednesday morning to remember the 265 lives lost when American Airlines Flight 587 crashed 13 years ago.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and relatives of the victims gathered in Rockaway Park for the ceremony, though the mayor raised some eyebrows and peeved some attendees when he showed up 20 minutes due to a boat delay.

He apologized for his tardiness, saying several times he takes responsibility for being late.

"That's absolutely my responsibility," he said. "Everyone else in the process did their job well."

His office released a statement saying that the mayor traveled to the ceremony by boat and was delayed due to heavy fog, which led to him missing the tolling of the bell. But the statement went on to say that de Blasio was "glad to have an opportunity to mark this solemn day with the families of those lost on Flight 587, who have the continued support of this administration."

"Previously, we had used the boat to go certain places, and it was the faster alternative," he said. "But it was also my fault because I was just not feeling well this morning. I had a very rough night and woke up sluggish, and I should have gotten myself moving. The folks out there, I have a lot of respect for them. I wanted to be there with them. I was honored to be there with them. And I know those families have been going through so much after 13 years, I wanted to be a part of it. But absolutely that's my responsibility."

The memorial site is just a short distance from where the plane, heading from John F. Kennedy International Airport to the Dominican Republic, went down shortly after takeoff.

The deadly crash, which claimed the lives of all 260 on board and five people on the ground, happened just two months after the September 11th terror attacks.

De Blasio praised the FDNY for the response to both tragedies.

"Time has done little to dull the pain, but it has brought some measure of healing, some measure of home, a shared sense of community," he said.

Belkis Lora, whose brother died in the crash and who is president of the Committee in Memory of Flight 587, released the following statement.

"Mayor de Blasio's office has supported us for months to organize our annual remembrance event. The size or the look of the event is not as important for us as to have the opportunity to come here every year, get together as families affected by this unfathomable tragedy and remember the lives of those we lost that day. We hope to continue to work with the mayor's team for many more years."

Even after 13 years, sadness lives on for people like William Valentine, whose partner and lover of 20 years, flight attendant Joe Lopes, died on the flight.

"I don't think an hour goes by," he said, suppressing a sob, "when I'm not thinking of Joe in some way."

The accident will remain forever linked to 9/11 because of its proximity in both time and distance to the disaster at the World Trade Center. Belle Harbor, the suburban beach neighborhood where the plane went down, has been a longtime enclave of police officers, firefighters and financial district workers, and was still holding funerals for its 9/11 dead when the accident happened.

The hardest blow, though, came for New York City's large community of immigrants from the Dominican Republic. Flight 587 was bound for Santo Domingo when it went down. Most of the passengers were Dominican. In some city neighborhoods, like Manhattan's Washington Heights, it seemed like everyone knew someone aboard the flight.

Investigators ultimately determined that the plane's tail had detached in midair because of stress put on the plane's rudder as the co-pilot tried to steady the aircraft in another jet's turbulent wake. Since then, steering systems for some airliners have been redesigned so pilots can have greater awareness of movements in the tail rudder.
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