Daughter pays respects to mother at Flight 587 crash site

TimesLedger Newspapers
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

Photo gallery

Francisca Diaz (front) stands beside her mother's name on the Flight 587 memorial in Rockaway Park. She is surrounded by (l.-r.) her sister Orquidia Capellan, brother Omar Capellan and nephew Raymond Collado. Photo by Christina Santucci
Melissa Araujo, 27, visited the Queens memorial to remember Wilton Mendez, who was 27 when he died in the crash. Photo by Christina Santucci
A candle and a memorial card were placed at the crash site in Belle Harbor.
The interior of the Sand Bar, which is adjacent to the Flight 587 memorial in Rockaway Park, is filled with sand.
Loved ones of those killed in the Flight 587 crash walk to the water's edge.
The boardwalk near Beach 116th Street in Rockaway is broken apart.
A Jeep was torched along with homes in Belle Harbor during Hurricane Sandy.
The Harbor Light Pub was destroyed by fire. Photo by Christina Santucci
A flag hangs from wires in Rockaway Park, near the site of the Flight 587 memorial.

Every Nov. 12, Francisca Diaz travels to Queens to remember her mother, who was one of 265 people killed when Flight 587 crashed into Rockaway in 2001 shortly after taking off from John F. Kennedy International Airport for the Dominican Republic.

This year was no different.

At about 9:30 a.m. Monday, she visited a memorial in Rockaway Park at Beach 116th Street to place a flower close to the engraving of her mother’s name, Petronia Hierro.

“We dedicate this day to remembering her,” Diaz said.

At the time of the American Airlines crash, Diaz’s mother had been traveling alone to visit one of her 12 children in Santo Domingo, who had been badly hurt in a car accident.

“It was hard for him to accept. He was blaming himself for Mommy — for my mom’s death,” Diaz said.

Since 2006, a memorial ceremony has been held at the Rockaway Park site, which is now surrounded by piles of sand, debris and buildings battered by Hurricane Sandy. On the south side, the boardwalk is split in several places and pieces are missing.

To commemorate the 11th anniversary this year, a service attended by Mayor Michael Bloomberg took place at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in the Bronx. But several families — including Diaz’s clan — instead opted to go to Queens, where they took photos of loved ones’ names and walked to the water’s edge. Afterward, some planned to head over to Beach 131st Street in Belle Harbor, the actual crash site.

“I’m surprised no one is here today,” Diaz said.

Diaz said she had been unsure about this year’s memorial plans in the days leading up to the anniversary. She had received an invitation for an event in Queens a while back before the storm struck.

“After Sandy, they never let us know they were going to cancel it,” she said.

Several blocks away at the crash site on Beach 131st Street a single candle and a memorial card for Michelle Mills had been placed in front of a tree on the corner.

In the neighboring streets, the effects of the storm were visible. Several homes had been torched by fire during the hurricane and piles of debris were collected along the curb.

Ray Sullivan, who lives a block away, witnessed both the Flight 587 crash and the deluge and blazes brought on by Sandy.

Eleven years ago, he had been watching Regis Philbin on TV when he heard a plane overhead.

“I thought it was a Concord it was so loud. And then we heard an explosion,” he said.

Sullivan got dressed, went outside and tried to direct traffic.

“They were doing what they could to put out the fire, but it was impossible,” he said.

Of those killed, 260 were aboard the American Airlines plane and another five were on the ground.

Late last month fire once again torched parts of Belle Harbor.

“There were embers coming over towards my house. We were just watching. There was nothing we could do because the water was 6, 8 feet outside,” Sullivan said of a blaze on 131st Street, half a block down from the crash site.

After that fire burned out, the wind shifted, and another one began burning on Beach 130th Street, torching the popular Harbor Light Pub on Rockaway Beach Boulevard and more homes.

“For myself, I lost two cars and my basement, but other people had it much worse,” he said.

Reach photo editor Christina Santucci by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4589.

Updated 6:56 pm, November 14, 2012
Today’s news:
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

Reader feedback

Enter your comment below

By submitting this comment, you agree to the following terms:

You agree that you, and not or its affiliates, are fully responsible for the content that you post. You agree not to post any abusive, obscene, vulgar, slanderous, hateful, threatening or sexually-oriented material or any material that may violate applicable law; doing so may lead to the removal of your post and to your being permanently banned from posting to the site. You grant to the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual and fully sublicensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part world-wide and to incorporate it in other works in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.


Do you know an immigrant in Queens who has made an impact on the community? Nominate a person who has made a difference for the 2018 Queens Ambassador Awards.
Community News Group

Don’t miss out!

Stay in touch with the stories people are talking about in your neighborhood:

Optional: Help us tailor our newsletters to you!