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A new federal law sponsored by a borough congressman now holds airlines responsible for providing essential information to family members of airplane crash victims on their relatives.
U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Kew Gardens) said he authored the bill in response to complaints from family members of victims who died when American Airlines Flight 587 crashed into Belle Harbor on Nov. 12, 2001 minutes after taking off from Kennedy Airport.
The new bill requires all airlines to increase access to televised hearings on air crash investigations held by the National Transportation Safety Board and provide property owners around crash sites with timely, essential information to facilitate insurance claims or other forms of compensation.
"After the events of Nov. 12, 2001, I do not think anyone in our community will ever look at those planes the same way again," Weiner said. "But for those of us who are charged with moving forward, we must learn the solemn lessons of Flight 587 and make it easier for victims to get the information they need."
All 260 passengers onboard Flight 587 died as well as five people on the ground who were killed when wreckage of the plane damaged and destroyed private residences.
More than half of the 260 people aboard the plane were Dominicans, who regularly take the popular daily shuttle from Kennedy Airport to Santo Domingo that inspired a merengue song with lyrics called "Flight 587."
The five people died in Belle Harbor when the plane's fuselage hit 10 houses and its jet engines broke off, starting a fire that raced through the neighborhood.
Anson Kaye, a spokesman for Weiner, said the congressman has been speaking with airlines regularly since the crash almost two years ago to come up with solutions to problems families experienced in the wake of the November crash. Kaye said the congressman heard complaints from families who could not make it for financial reasons to scheduled investigative hearings held by the NTSB in Washington. The families, he said, were frustrated because they were not offered an alternative and instead denied access to the hearings looking into potential causes of the crash.
Property owners in Belle Harbor were also frustrated in the aftermath of the crash because they did not know who to contact to get money to reconstruct their homes, Kaye said.
Weiner thus decided to draft the legislation to increase the amount of communication between all victims following an airplane crash and the airline.
Kaye said the NTSB would monitor the implementation of the federal legislation.
"There is a general sense that the airlines need to do a better job communicating with victims' families," Kaye said.
Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156
©2003 Community Newspaper Group
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