We accidentally found crash site that killed 265 people

By Alex P. Vidal

“Death by plane crash scares me. I travel a lot, and when you hit turbulence, and post 9/11, that’s in the back of my mind a bit.”—Robert Englund

TWO months after the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York City’s Twin Towers in 2001, a commercial plane carrying 260 people crashed in a neighborhood near the beach after taking off from the John F. Kennedy (JFK) Airport in Queens.

Of the 265 killed, five were on the ground.

In the Philippines, my media colleague in Iloilo, who became a controversial YouTube vlogger, criticized the dummy sheet of our community newspaper I was preparing when he noticed I placed the plane crash story on front page.

“Sa Pilipinas ina natabo?” (Did it happen in the Philippines?)” he inquired. Thinking he found the answer to his own question after reading the first paragraph, I didn’t say anything.

He probably knew it happened in the United States and only wanted to suggest innocuously an international story didn’t necessarily warrant a front-page treatment in a community newspaper, unless we were a national or international broadsheet.

He neither complained nor insisted, thus I retained the story on front page.

I realized he had a point; but, I thought I was also slightly correct.

Local stories in the local paper were more catchy and appealing to community readers.

They were more interested to read what’s happening around them, first and foremost, and they wanted it quick. National and international news maybe interesting sometimes, but they didn’t really excite local readers who always had appetite for fresh local news.

My colleague was correct had he pressed his issue and elucidated further.


But, wait a minute, 265 passengers, crew, and those on the ground perished in the crash.

In every rule there is exemption, and it also applies to newspapers or, to be more precise, treatment of news.

National or international news, if there are casualties, can be a candidate for a headline even in a community paper in the absence of more sensational or “blockbuster” local stories.

Thus, news of the plane crash with scores dead that happened in a faraway beach in New York, at the editor’s discretion, deserved to be on front page.

Going back to the crash’s details, eureka, we accidentally located the area where it happened 21 years after the scrimmage over which page the news about the horrible air mishap should be lay-outed in our newspaper in the Philippines.

It’s a neighborhood of Belle Harbor on the Rockaway Peninsula.

It was actually our second visit there on August 15, 2022. The first was during the pandemic; we reached the area even if our movements had been restricted by social distancing and Covid-19-induced protocol.

We boarded the Q53-SBS bus from the Woodside’s 61st Street-Roosevelt Avenue via Broadway Street (+Select Bus Rockaway Pk B. 116 St Via Woodhaven Bl Via Cross Bay Bl) and arrived at Beach 116 St/Rockaway Beach Bl after 23 stops and one hour of travel.

After a 10-minute walk to the beach, we reached the Flight 587 Memorial Park.

An American Airlines Flight 587 out of JFK Airport crashed into the neighborhood after takeoff on November 12, 2001, killing 265 people.

Although some initially speculated that the crash was the result of terrorism, as it came exactly two months after the September 11 attacks, the cause was quickly proven to be a combination of pilot error and wind conditions, according to HISTORY.

The plane took off at 9:14 a.m., bound for the Dominican Republic with 260 passengers and crew on board. Just ahead of the Airbus 300 jet, also using runway 31, was a Japan Air 747. Even with the standard four-mile distance between them, the 747 created some wake turbulence that hit Flight 587 just minutes after takeoff. As the plane climbed to 13,000 feet, there were two significant shudders and then a violent heave, according to HISTORY.

“Unfortunately, the pilots of Flight 587 overreacted to the wake turbulence and their subsequent maneuvers put too much strain on the tail section of the plane. The tail, along with the rudder in the rear, broke off completely and fell into Rockaway Bay. Without this part of the plane, Flight 587 crashed to the ground,” added the HISTORY.

“As Flight 587 was in its final moments, Kevin McKeon was in his house on Queens’ Rockaway Peninsula. In an instant, his house virtually exploded; he was thrown out into his yard as the plane fell onto his house. In all, 10 homes were set ablaze, and five people on the ground, as well as all 260 people on the plane, lost their lives. The disaster hit Rockaway especially hard, as the community was still reeling from the September 11 attacks, in which 65 area residents lost their lives.”

(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local daily newspapers in Iloilo.—Ed)