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Queens remembers Flight 587

Ana Espinal lost her mother, Petronila Hierro, on Nov. 12, 2001, when American Airlines Flight 587 went down in Belle Harbor shortly after it took off, killing 265 people.

Espinal continues to grieve for Hierro and attended the eighth-anniversary memorial last Thursday for the victims of the crash, held in neighboring Rockaway Park.

“It’s very sad. A year’s passed and nothing’s changed,” she said, clutching a black umbrella after placing flowers in slots in the memorial erected blocks from the site where the plane crashed. “It’s very sad losing a mother. Every year watching the news videos we get sad again. But I think it’s important because we get together and share our pain and pray.”

The ceremony, which was led by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Monsignor John Brown of St. Francis de Sales Church in Belle Harbor, took place at 9 a.m. on a windswept, drizzly morning with the vast Atlantic Ocean as the background. The event was timed to coincide with 9:16 a.m., the moment the plane hit the ground, and was held at a memorial sculpture installation by the beach in Rockaway Park that was dedicated three years ago.

A crowd of more than 150 people gathered to mourn the victims of the crash, most of whom were Dominican,when the plane went down en route to the Caribbean nation,

Belkis Lora’s 44-year-old brother, Jose was on Flight 587 that fated morning, headed back to Santo Domingo, the capital, where he was attending college. He had come to New York to celebrate their nephew’s birthday.

“It’s very important for us not to forget our loved ones, and coming to this memorial is showing our love,” the Ozone Park resident said. “No matter how many years pass, we’re going to keep showing we remember them and love them.”

After Bloomberg spoke, friends and family of the victims read the names of every person who died and placed roses in the memorial sculpture spaces.

“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,” Bloomberg said, referring to the people on the ground who died when the plane crashed into the residential neighborhood. “Our hearts are still heavy with grief. The memories of those we lost still vivid y nuestro amor por ellos sigue fuerte.”

In English, he said “the memories of those we lost still live and our love for them remains strong,” a testament to the enduring devotion of those who flock to the event each year and were shocked that November day eight years ago to learned that their loved ones and friends had died.

“We come every year. We never forget. It’s all there is,” Brooklyn resident Tricia Mills said. She brought a framed photograph of her sister Michele, who was a flight attendant on the plane.

“My sister loved her job,” she said. “Other people who were afraid of flying, she tried to talk them into it. We never forget. This is the one moment every year to remember, and that’s why we’re here.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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