Laura Santala and her children went to the Flight 587...

Laura Santala and her children went to the Flight 587 Memorial Park in Rockaway Park, Queens to remember her husband and their father, Timo Santala. (Nov. 11, 2011) Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

As the clock strikes 9:16 a.m. Saturday, church bells will toll throughout the Rockaways to remember the 265 lives lost in the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 a decade ago.

The Airbus 300 jet bound for the Dominican Republic plunged about 2,300 feet into the Belle Harbor neighborhood of Queens minutes after takeoff from Kennedy Airport. The crash came barely two months after the Sept. 11 attacks on Lower Manhattan, further unnerving people in the New York metropolitan area.

Although Belle Harbor has rebuilt and recovered, the grief of those who lost relatives and friends is ever-present.

"All we have left are the memories," said Belkis Lora, of Ozone Park, Queens, whose brother, José Francisco Lora, 44, died on the flight.

Lora, 44, has brought together about 120 families of the mostly Dominican immigrants who were headed to the country's capital of Santo Domingo on Nov. 12, 2001. They have gotten together for events throughout the years; many were involved in providing feedback for the city memorial.

The yearly remembrance at the Flight 587 Memorial Park in Rockaway Park gives them comfort because they know they are not alone, she said.

"We want to make sure that when we speak about these victims, we know that these are not just faceless names, but people who had families, who had friends, who were fighting for their dreams," Lora said.

Investigators concluded the crash was caused by wake turbulence from another airliner and the Flight 587 pilot's overreaction to it, which led to the plane's vertical stabilizer snapping off because of stress. The accident obliterated four houses and sparked a huge fireball that charred adjacent properties, as well as blocks away at a house and car shop where the engines dropped. Five people on the ground were killed, along with nine crew members and 251 passengers.

The accident staggered the Dominican community, which numbers more than 576,000 in the city's boroughs and 42,000 on Long Island, according to 2010 census data.

"Dominicans still remember," said Ramona Hernández, director of the Dominican Studies Institute at City College in Manhattan. "This happened to us and we know how quickly people can be taken away from us."

While some relatives struggle with deep sorrow, others find strength in remembering life before the crash.

Rosalyn Pichardo, 17, a senior at St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School in West Islip, is hanging on to the memories she has of her father, 43-year-old Luis Pichardo, an entrepreneur who opened a furniture store in Brentwood.

She remembers his smile. She remembers him playing his guitar at night and singing her lullabies. But she has forgotten what his voice sounded like.

"He was one of the nicest, sweetest people and I don't want to forget him," Rosalyn said. "He came to this country with nothing and he prospered. He really lived the American dream."

Grief reached outside the Dominican community as well.

Timo Santala, 40, a metallurgist who commuted from Port Washington to Santo Domingo to run a manufacturing operation there, was among the passengers, leaving behind a wife, two daughters and two sons.

His wife, Laura Santala, 50, said the family lives with "an ever-present sadness," but their lives have, by necessity, moved on. "As much as he hasn't been physically with us for the last 10 years, his presence is at the base of our family's foundation," Laura Santala said.

At Beach 131st Street and Newport Avenue in Belle Harbor, where most of the plane's fuselage fell, new homes have replaced those that were destroyed. New trees were planted. In the shade of one, a discreet marker reads: "In memory of those lost in the tragedy of Flight 587 on November 12, 2001."

"This is one of the nicest areas of New York City now," said Gary Baldaeus, who recently moved to a house a block from the crash site. "We know the history of it and still moved in because you can't just abandon a place when something tragic happens."

The memorial, a curved wall with bricks bearing the names of those who died with a gate that opens up to a view of the seashore, was designed by Dominican-born artist Freddy Rodríguez and dedicated by the city in 2006 about a mile east of the crash site.

Dennis Garelli, 59, a subway operator who moved to the neighborhood four years ago, offers a silent prayer every time he passes the memorial. "It's not just stones there," he said, "but all the hearts of the people."

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