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Our hearts still heavy: Bloomberg

The 265 lives that were lost when American Airlines Flight 587 crashed in Belle Harbor were honored by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the victims’ families last week on the seventh anniversary of the disaster that evoked fears of another terrorist attack on the city.

Flight 587 took off from John F. Kennedy International Airport en route to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic on the morning of Nov. 12, 2001, almost two months to the day after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The plane crashed into a residential street in Belle Harbor just minutes after takeoff, killing all 260 people on the aircraft and five others on the ground in Belle Harbor.

Early reports that a plane had plummeted into the Rockaways raised fears among jittery city residents that terrorists were responsible for what turned out to be a combination of mechanical failure and pilot error

“Seven years ago this morning, hundreds of families were torn apart when they received the news that their loved ones aboard Flight 587 had perished,” Bloomberg said during the remembrance ceremony last week. “Once again, we have come together to remember all of them, including the five residents of Belle Harbor who also lost their lives on that day. Our hearts are still heavy with grief.”

Red Cross volunteers walked through the aisles of fold−out chairs laid out next to the sculpture memorial at Beach 116th Street and Rockaway Boulevard, handing out tissues to weeping family members.

Maria De Jesus, a 32−year−old East Harlem resident who lost her boyfriend, Angel Celestino, in the crash, said he wished her a goodbye that seemed odd that morning.

“He said something weird to me. He said, ‘I’m just leaving physically, but my spirit is not leaving,’ ” De Jesus said.

Celestino, a 40−year−old cable installer for Time Warner, was traveling to the Dominican Republic to visit his mother, whom he had not seen in three years, she said.

De Jesus said she might have been on the plane with him, but decided not to go on the trip because she was pregnant.

Eight months after the crash, she gave birth to a girl. De Jesus named her Angelina, after her boyfriend.

Dawind George’s father and uncle were also killed in the crash. They were planning to visit the Dominican Republic to see family “and have a fun time,” he said.

“It never gets any better,” George said of the grief he still feels with every year that passes since the accident. “I think you learn how to assimilate, but every time it feels like it just happened.”

“Every day you see things that remind you” of the crash, said George, a 28−year−old Washington Heights resident. “I had nieces that were born and I wish [my father and uncle] were there. Sometimes you need the support of that voice telling you everything’s going to be OK.”

The names of all 265 victims were read before families walked up to the memorial sculpture to lay flowers at the site.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e−mail at hkoplowitz@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 173.

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