Karen Tavarez knew that the names of her mother and nephew, who were killed five years ago in the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 in the Rockaways, had been inscribed in granite on the memorial, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. But to know and to accept are different things.
“I don’t have the strength to see their names there, and verify that they are actually there,” said Ms. Tavarez, 30, who wore buttons with photographs of her nephew, Karl Steven Lora Tavarez, and her mother, Virgilia Tavarez De Mateo.
Nearly 1,000 mourners gathered under a foggy sky in Queens yesterday morning to mark the fifth anniversary of the crash and to watch as Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg dedicated a long-awaited memorial to the 265 victims.
The Nov. 12, 2001, crash, which killed all 260 people on board and 5 people on the ground, occurred shortly after taking off from Kennedy International Airport. It was the second-deadliest aviation disaster in United States history. The flight was destined for Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic; most of the passengers were Dominican, and many lived in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan.
The deadliest plane crash, in 1979, killed 273 people in Chicago.
Occurring two months and a day after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, the crash of Flight 587 capped one of the most tragic years in city history and briefly stoked fears of terrorism. The National Transportation Safety Board eventually concluded that “unnecessary and excessive” use of the rudder by the first officer had caused the crash and that flawed training and poor rudder design were contributing factors.
The memorial is a curved and perforated wall, made up of blocks of vermilion granite from Canada. The 265 names, carved on 190 blocks, are arrayed alphabetically by surname, with some exceptions. Families are grouped together, as are the nine crew members and the five people who died on the ground.
Along the wall are holes of different shapes, where family members placed roses. The wall has a large portal with a view of the ocean; the lintel above it bears the inscription “Después No Quiero Más Que Paz” — “Afterward I Want Only Peace” — a line in a poem by Pedro Mir, a Dominican poet who died in 2000. On the plaza in front of the wall are a group of Aristocrat pear trees. Around the memorial, landscape architects planted Eastern red cedars, shore juniper, New York aster, red switch grass, pink coreopsis, beach rose, Montauk daisies and liriope.
The team of contractors building the memorial rushed in recent weeks to meet yesterday’s deadline, and the cleanup finished only at 5 a.m., with just hours to spare.
At the ceremony, which was broadcast live in the Dominican Republic following a memorial Mass in Santo Domingo, Mr. Bloomberg said he hoped that the survivors could “experience the peace that surpasses all understanding.”
The moment of the crash, 9:16 a.m., was marked with two ringings of a ceremonial bell, then silence. Then came a reading of the names of the dead.
The city spent about $9.2 million on the memorial, on Beach 116th Street in Rockaway Park, next to the wooden boardwalk that runs along the Atlantic Ocean. The city reconstructed a bathroom under the memorial, and refurbished a lifeguard station and built a new bathroom nearby, as part of the project. The Department of Parks and Recreation will maintain the memorial, but officials are trying to raise private money for a maintenance endowment.
The memorial is about 17 blocks from the crash site, at Beach 131st Street and Newport Avenue in Belle Harbor, where five homes were demolished. Some relatives of victims had wanted to build the memorial at the crash site, an idea that most residents opposed, saying it would be a daily reminder of grief.
In the end, the city opted for a 7,115-square-foot site at Beach 116th Street, which is in a commercial district and close to a subway station. At the crash site, Mr. Bloomberg dedicated a stone marker on Nov. 12, 2003, that rests on the sidewalk under a pear tree. New houses are being built on the crash site, but that did not stop several mourners from holding a small private ceremony there yesterday.
Freddy Rodríguez, a Dominican-born artist who lives in Queens, won a competition last year to design the memorial; Situ Studio, a design firm, was a consultant.
“My design grew out of the concept of the ‘here and there,’ the ‘back and forth,’ and the universal longing to return home,” Mr. Rodríguez wrote in his submission. At the ceremony yesterday, he said some relatives had thanked him. “They had tears in their eyes, and it was very hard for me to control my own tears,” he said.
Maria De Jesus, 30, whose husband, Angel Celestino, was flying home to visit his mother, said she hoped that visitors would remember the happiness of the passengers. “I want people to remember that they were in the airplane full of life, enjoying going back to their country,” she said.
Henry Hernandez, 28, placed roses to honor his paternal grandparents, Teofilo Antonio Hernandez and Luz Maria Lendof, who after decades of work in the United States were planning to return home for retirement.
John Turkeli, 46, stood before the wall to pay respects to one of his closest friends, Diane P. Monte, who was traveling with a friend, Marion Hartigan, to take a vacation and do some volunteer work. “We all need to appreciate the brevity of life, and the fragility of it,” he said softly.
Brad States, 15, who was in the fifth grade when his father, Edward A. States, the captain on Flight 587, died, recalled that his father would visit his school on Math and Science Day and give out plastic wings to the students. Yesterday, he brought a pair of American Airlines wings with him, to place beside his father’s name.