Crash of Flight 587"
Well it was another day in the City and as always it always seems to start like this:
"Oh my god, Ricky, another plane crashed!" I love my wife Maddie, but for some reason she has become a terror to me in the mornings.
And the madness and horror begins all over again and the initial speculation as well. I thought as well as anyone else who heard it for the first time that it was another attack. I rushed down into the city again trying to get over the Whitestone or the Triboro Bridge in an attempt to get into Far Rockaway. This time around, the cops had their act together and crossing any bridge at 10:30 AM was impossible. So I talk to my editor and he suggests that I jump onto a train. A train? You mean the Subway? Confined space? I had a seriously debate with myself whether that is a good idea. A part of me lost the argument because the next thing I'm doing is catching a train to Far Rockaway. I dumped my car near Yankee Stadium, take only my cameras and some batteries and off I go. In hindsight, it worked out remarkably well. I was able to make it all the way down to the last train stop in record time near the crash site. I got there 5 minutes after a photographer from my paper, who was stuck at the toll plaza at the Whitestone bridge, was let through at some point when I was in the train. The train that I was on also had media members from other organizations. Mass Transit, the way to go.
By the time I got to the site, the perimeter was pretty much closed. Since the debris field was confined to only several blocks and the community almost entirely residential, there weren't too many ways to make it through to the scene. You could actually walk around the entire perimeter. A couple of photographers did make it through as well as local folks with video cameras, whose footage was seen on TV.
I guess the most disturbing feeling that I had was how routine everything was. The strange sense of normalcy. I mean, the cops and the firefighters had the scene in control in record time. They were able to close the bridges with extreme efficiency. The cops weren't rattled and behaved professionally. People, with but few exceptions, didn't get bent out of shape because they couldn't get over a bridge. Guiliani even gave a very good approximation as to when the bridges would be opened. And the prevailing sense of it being routine was everywhere you looked. That scared me.
By the time I got to the scene, the fires were out, they had recovered close to half of the bodies and they had all the equipment they could possibly need at the scene. By the time I left, there were trucks stacked with instant portable fencing ready to go to work to close off the area.
The people in the community were great. They were open with their homes and were easily approachable by reporters and photographers. One family gave a pair of gloves to a reporter that I was with who was freezing. Others brought water and food to the scene for the rescue workers. Later on, it wasn't necessary because the Salvation Army and the Red Cross showed up with their food trucks.
Mayor Guiliani, Governor Pataki and other government officials were able to determine that the crash, at this point, was a mechanical failure. Every conversation that I have had with people who witnessed the crash seems to confirm this. But like everything else in these times, we'll wait and see.
With so much heightened security, you would think that the airlines would also spend just a little more time making sure that the planes are mechanically safe to fly. I mean, if they are searching the aircraft to make sure that no foreign devices are placed on the plane, how is it that they can miss a mechanical defect?
So tonight, another horrible day ends. Tomorrow, I will go to the Javits Center and begin to meet the families that have lost folks on AA Flight 587. Since I'm Hispanic, I'll probably be doing the translations for the reporter. I'll be sharing people's anguish on a personal level. Given that this will affect a predominately Hispanic community from the Dominican Republic, I assume that I will also be spending a lot of time in funerals as well.
It may have not been a terrorist attack, but in a city where every single community has been affected by the events of September 11th, this is another hard blow in such a short period of time. Events like this should never be routine.
Ricky Flores has been working as staff photographer for The Journal News, a daily paper based in Westchester, N.Y for the pasted 8 years. Prior to that he was a founding member of Impact Visuals and a freelance photographer for The Village Voice and The New York Times.