At somber event, families recall jet crash

Newsday,  November 12, 2011


Nannette Toreza, right, is held by two other

Photo credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

A week before Baudilio Garcia boarded American Airlines Flight 587 for a vacation in the Dominican Republic, he lamented not having more grandchildren.

“He said ‘I’m never going to meet my grandchildren,’ ” said his daughter, Cindy Bautista, who yesterday joined family members and friends of the 265 people killed in the jetliner crash in Queens a decade ago.

Garcia, a cabdriver from the Bronx, was 72.

“He kept saying, ‘I want a grandkid,’ ” Bautista, 35, also from the Bronx, recalled. “Ten years later, he has 10 grandchildren that he’s never met.”

Those sentiments were echoed by hundreds of people who gathered at a somber seaside ceremony held at the memorial in the Belle Harbor neighborhood.

The tearful event was led by city officials and family members who paid tribute to lives lost, in poetry, song and heartfelt statements.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke before a bell was rung and a moment of silence observed at 9:16 a.m. — the time the Airbus 300 jet crashed into homes. All 260 people aboard the plane died Nov. 12, 2001, along with five people on the ground.

“Ten years have gone by,” Bloomberg said. “But as you know all too well, every day in the wake of tragedy is a day of remembrance — a time to honor, an occasion for finding strength. But every day we also know the presence of those we’ve loved and lost is always with us.”

Joanne Kispert held flowers and thought of her father, Joseph Huber, a Ridge resident who was also vacation bound.

“I miss our Saturday morning phone calls,” said Kispert, 61, of Bayside, Queens. “I miss playing cards. I miss his corny jokes.”

Kispert, one of dozens of people placing flowers along the stone memorial, comes to the site every year.

“It’s peaceful,” she said. “My father and I were so close I felt he was in my heart and still is.”

Huber, 75, a security guard, was killed along with his wife, Frances Huber, 58, and two friends.

Joel Hernandez, 24, of Harlem, lost his grandparents, Teofilo Hernandez, 62, and Luz Maria Lendof, 60, who were planning to visit family in the Dominican Republic.

“They made sure the family was always together,” Hernandez said. “We’re just here trying to make them feel that we are here for them — that we still remember.”

Jennifer Babiarz, 25, of Lynbrook, lost her father, Franco Pomponio, when the plane crashed into their home. Pomponio, 46, a shipping manager for a company based at Kennedy Airport, was upstairs sleeping.

“We’re trying to make it positive by celebrating his life rather than mourning it,” said Babiarz, who came to the memorial with her mother and brother.

“I can’t believe it was 10 years ago,” she said. “I can’t grasp what happened sometimes, but you accept it.”