The Crash of AA Flt. 587 November 12, 2001

When American Airlines Flight 587 crashed shortly after takeoff from New York’s JFK Airport, the nation stopped dead in its tracks.  Afterall it was two months and a day after 9/11.   Were we under attack again? 

On this the ninth anniversary of that crash it has faded from our memories because it was not terrorist related.  Even still it remains the second deadliest U.S. aviation crash in history,  260 people on board were killed, five people on the ground.


Crash site of AA Flt. 587 Belle Harbor, NY

I arrived on the scene early that evening after coming in from Buffalo.  Having left immediately after learning of the crash I saw little TV coverage and didn’t know what to expect when I got there.  When I arrived I was floored by how small an area had been impacted by such a massive jet.  Afterall this was an Airbus A-300.  What was overwhelming was the smell of the jet fuel that lingered in the air.  The jet crashed 103 seconds after takeoff so it was loaded with fuel.

What I quickly learned about Belle Harbor was this was a community of hard working men and women that was absolutely devastated by the attacks of September 11th with just about every resident either losing a member of their own family or a neighbor in the terrorist attacks.

I remember standing the next morning outside St. Francis DeSales Catholic Church on the edge of the crash site, where 9 a.m. mass was packed with a Sunday sized crowd.  This is a church that had been the site of almost daily funerals, 30 to date at that point, as the victims of 9/11 were identified.

John Heffernan, FDNY Killed 9/11

Outside I met Mary Heffernan, a woman with a brogue as thick as could be, who rode her bike down to see for herself what had happened to her neighborhood.  In talking with her I quickly learned that Mary had lost her son John, a New York City firefighter in the September 11th attacks.  I remember being struck by just how calm she was in all this but in reality like so many people here she wasn’t so much calm, she was just  numb.  These people at this time just had to be thinking why us?  How much more can we endure?

The cause of the crash was quickly ruled not another terrorist attack but a takeoff that followed too closely the takeoff of another jet causing extreme turbulence which in a nutshell led to the crash.

Anyway as we look back on that day here’s the piece I put together that night for WKBW-TV on the people of Belle Harbor.


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