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Airliner Crashes in Queens, Killing All 260 Passengers

By Beth Holland

A jetliner with 260 people aboard plummeted into Queens Monday, killing all aboard and leaving at least six people missing in Belle Harbor, a neighborhood still torn by grief from the World Trade Center tragedy.

On a crystalline November morning, American Airlines Flight 587 -- bound for the Dominican Republic and running more than 70 minutes late -- took off from John F. Kennedy Airport at 9:14 a.m. and crashed three minutes later, destroying at least six houses and damaging about six others in the cozy enclave called home by generations of Irish and Jewish families.

Authorities did not definitively rule out terrorism as the crash’s cause. But by Monday night, a senior Bush administration official said, “It’s looking like it’s not a terrorist attack.”

Marion Blakey, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, agreed, noting, “All information we have currently is that this is an accident.”

Many in the area said they witnessed the plane’s demise. “I heard a plane that didn’t sound right. It was rumbling,” said Susan Locke, publisher of The Wave newspaper in Rockaway Beach. “I looked out of the window, and I saw the silver front of the plane nose-dive to the ground.

“Then,” she said, “plumes of black smoke were everywhere.”

Some barely escaped death when the plane crashed, as dangerous debris scattered across a wide area.

Residents of the Rockaways, still deep in mourning for the scores of firefighters and other residents of the peninsula who perished in the World Trade Center attacks, could hardly believe their eyes.

“Oh, God, it was so horrible,” said Eileen Dolan, who was headed home after walking her dog on the beach. “There were flames. There were flames coming out of the plane, and then it fell.”

Later, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani would say in a news conference that all aboard the plane were believed dead, while at least six people on the ground, and perhaps as many as eight, were dead. He noted that while he didn’t want to “minimize” the crash, it could have “been far worse -- even the way in which the plane landed in one defined area” minimized the damage, he said.

Meanwhile, Roberto Valentin, a Dominican ambassador at large, said he believed 90 percent of Flight 587’s passengers were Dominican, headed to their native land.