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Queens ceremony marks 15th anniversary of Flight 587 crash

Karen Tavarez, of the Bronx, stands at Flight

Karen Tavarez, of the Bronx, stands at Flight 587 memorial on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016, remembering her mother and nephew who died 15 years ago in the crash of the American Airlines jet into Belle Harbor Queens. Credit: Steve Pfost

Gabriela Despradel’s voice cracked and tears filled her eyes as she read aloud the names of her father and two brothers, who perished in the Nov. 12, 2001, crash of American Airlines Flight 587 in Belle Harbor, Queens.

Roberto Arturo Despradel. Lorenzo Gabriel Despradel. Roberto Arturo Despradel Jr.

They were three of the 265 names spoken Saturday morning at a ceremony marking the 15th anniversary of the moments when the plane bound for Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, slammed into houses shortly after takeoff from nearby Kennedy Airport.

Despradel, 21, traveled from her home in Orlando, Florida, for the ceremony, which took place at a memorial about a mile from the crash site.

She and other relatives of victims read a few dozen names into a microphone as more than 100 people sat somberly in blue plastic chairs in the chilly morning air, some clutching photos of loved ones who died.

“It was very difficult,” Despradel said afterward, surrounded by her uncle, aunt, brother and cousins. “It feels devastating, but it also feels a relief to stand before all these people and to give each other support.”

Cindy Bautista Thomas, 40, of Yonkers, said Despradel and the other name-readers offered solace during what every year is an emotionally draining time. Her father, Baudilio Bautista Garcia, died a week after his 71st birthday, a birthday her twin brother and sister share.

“When we hear the names, it comforts us, because we’re here with other people who shared the same experience, something so tragic,” Bautista said, a button bearing her father’s photo attached to her coat. “The wound is still sore.”

At 9:16 a.m., a silver bell was rung to commemorate the exact moment when the plane crashed. Investigators concluded that turbulence from the wake of a plane that had taken off just before Flight 587, along with the overreaction of the pilot to it, caused the accident. All 260 people aboard the plane, along with five on the ground, died.

Before and after the ceremony, which takes place every Nov. 12, Mayor Bill de Blasio talked with family members, hugging some and gently touching the shoulders of others.

After a prayer, the reading of the names and speeches by de Blasio and Dominican Consul General Carlos Castillo, family members walked toward a curving beachfront stone wall that serves as a memorial to the victims.

Some pressed their hands on the etched names of loved ones or placed white roses in spaces in the wall. Some cried. Others prayed.

Afterward, dozens drove the mile to the crash site to stand and reflect at a smaller memorial next to homes built to replace those destroyed in the crash.

Marina Aponte of the Bronx was aboard the plane, looking forward to a visit with her mother, said Beatriz Mayi, Aponte’s sister. Fifteen years later, the pain of her death hasn’t ebbed, she said.

Mayi, 70, has attended every annual ceremony to honor the Flight 587 victims. They always bring back memories of that horrific day.

But Mayi said she’ll continue making the trek from Washington Heights to Rockaway Park to hear her sister’s name and listen to the ringing of the bell.

“It’s important to remember the fallen,” Mayi said in Spanish. “That’s why it’s important to have this ceremony every year — to remember.”

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