Flight 800 memorial headed to TWA Museum

An undated photo of the four foot-high memorial,

An undated photo of the four foot-high memorial, with a crystal sculpture showing clounds and a 747 jetliner emerging from them, has been housed for more than a decade in the main pavillion in Smith Point Park. (Credit: Marc Br├ęcy)

Rick Brand

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A reminder of one of Long Island's most tragic events is about to find a final resting place.

A granite memorial honoring the roughly 50 TWA flight staff, employees and family members who perished in 1996 when Flight 800 exploded south of Smith Point County Park has been housed for more than a decade in the main pavilion at the oceanfront park.

Now the 4-foot-high memorial, with a crystal sculpture depicting clouds with a 747 jetliner emerging from them, is in a sense going home. Later this month, it will be trucked 1,150 miles to the newly reopened TWA Museum in Kansas City, Mo. The museum, which since March was housed temporarily in the company's original headquarters, has been largely and lovingly assembled by former TWA employees.

"It's just a more fitting place for it," said Gregory Dawson, Suffolk County parks commissioner, noting former TWA employees approached him earlier this year about relocating the crew memorial. "It's a way to return it back to the TWA family."

The county became custodian of the $30,000 memorial when its original location, Hangar 12 at Kennedy Airport, was shuttered after TWA went out of business in 2001. But for the past three years, the crew memorial has been out of sight because the pavilion, where beach campers once signed in, was closed to the public. Park officials also expressed concern about the effects of weathering on the glass-topped memorial, and the possibility of it being tipped over.

The crew monument is not to be confused with the much larger memorial for all 230 Flight 800 victims, who were lost 14 miles offshore only minutes after the Paris-bound jet took off. That memorial, east of the beach pavilion, is a 2-acre site with paved pathways, landscaped gardens and a large curved black granite memorial with the names of all victims -- passengers and crew. It features flags of the 14 countries from which passengers came.

Each year around the July 17 anniversary of the tragedy, hundreds of former TWA workers and family members come to pay their respects to the lost. TWA museum officials hope to have the crew memorial relocated by then.

"The anniversary was very critical to them," said Dawson. "That's why we did it with an emergency resolution" at the June 19 county legislative meeting.

Zana Allen, a former TWA employee and museum executive board member, said there are plans "to have a caravan of people meet the truck outside Kansas City and drive with it to the museum. We hope to have a significant welcoming party."

Allen could not estimate how much it will cost to transport the memorial, but said a group of retired pilots has held fundraisers to cover the cost.

"It will be under good care here," she said. "It'll get the reverence it deserves."