Herald news services
NEW YORK – Janet Barasso ran blindly through thick, black smoke with her two sons Monday and feared the worst after an American Airlines jetliner crashed just a block from her home.
“I thought we were being bombed, because I didn’t see the plane,” said Barasso, weeping after she and her sons, ages 10 and 16, reached safety.
Even though the tragedy appears to be an accident, Monday’s plane crash rattled an already nervous nation, and no area more so than the Queens neighborhood of Rockaway Beach, which took a heavy hit in the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
“It was like being hit hard in the stomach,” said Robert Travers of Syracuse, N.Y., describing how he absorbed news of the crash while waiting to pick up his son at the local airport.
Like many Americans, Travers’ first thought was that terrorists had struck again.
Marie Brown, of Ocean Port, N.J., was returning from a vacation to Hawaii with her husband when their Newark-bound flight was diverted to Detroit.
“I’m too scared to fly,” Brown said. “We’re trying to get a car to drive home. This is just unreal.”
Compounding the pain for the close-knit Rockaway neighborhood, the area is home to many police and firefighter families, families that already are reeling from the loss of their loved ones in the World Trade Center attacks of Sept. 11.
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, too, was struck by this twist of fate.
“The idea that Rockaway was the victim of this, I mean, any place it happened, obviously, is awful. But it had a special significance. I just passed a church in which I had been to, I think, 10 funerals,” he said. “Rockaway was particularly hard hit in proportion to the people we lost.”
“Just on the heels of one horror, another,” said Fern Liberman, who lives two blocks from the crash site.
“We’re already devastated,” said Kim Moran, whose husband, John, was killed in the trade center rescue effort and who lives 10 blocks from the crash site.
Retired cop Frank Dowd was on his way to St. Francis de Sales church.
“God almighty,’ said Dowd, “I thought this neighborhood had given enough.”
Sean Heeran, 26, had just arrived at his job as a Manhattan trader when he learned of the crash Monday. He immediately drove home to the family house on Beach 129th Street.
“I was just worried about my family,” Heeran said. “We just lost a brother,” he said referring to 23-year-old Charlie, who worked on the 104th floor of One World Trade Center.
When he reached his house, Sean Heeran saw that a piece of an engine had slammed into the parking lot of the Texaco station across the street, the impact shattering the station’s windows.
But Heeran’s house escaped unscathed, as did the nearby restaurant.
“It was close,” Heeran said. “But everyone’s safe. It could have been worse. I think my brother threw us a blessing.”