Clinton to console bereaved families
New York governor defends his comments
July 25, 1996
Web posted at: 1:15 a.m. EDT
NEW YORK (CNN) -- President Clinton will arrive in New York Thursday to meet with investigators, search and recovery teams and family members of victims of TWA Flight 800.
The plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean July 17, killing all 230 people on board. It had just left John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, and was headed for Paris.
"I think it will be reassuring to the families that the president will be here," New York Gov. George Pataki said. "I think it's a positive thing and I'm pleased that he's coming."
Pataki, who met with Joseph Lychner and other family members for more than an hour Wednesday, said he had asked Clinton to name one individual to speak on behalf of all crash investigators.
"We want the information first, before it goes to (reporters)"
-- Joseph Lychner
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Wednesday evening, it was announced that Robert Francis, vice chairman of the National Safety Transportation Board, would be that spokesman.
It was important to get any new information on the search to "families first," even before news briefings, New York Gov. George Pataki told reporters outside a hotel at John F. Kennedy International Airport where crash victims' families are staying.
"We are not children," said Lychner, whose wife and one of two daughters on the flight have been identified. "We want the information first, before it goes to you," he told reporters. "We don't want to get it from you."
Pataki had been criticized for his comment Tuesday that divers had found "dozens and dozens" of additional bodies -- a claim that National Transportation Safety Board Vice Chairman Robert Francis said later he could not verify.
"We were told that information by divers and believed it to be accurate," Pataki said Wednesday. He was optimistic that "a significant additional number of bodies" would be found but did not want to "get specific" on numbers. (217K AIFF or WAV sound)
French citizens complain about search
As divers searched Wednesday for more victims and wreckage from exploded TWA Flight 800, French citizens who lost loved ones in the crash complained that their government was ignoring their grief and not offering enough assistance in the recovery effort.
Responding to criticism from French citizens, the consul general in New York City said the French government has been in frequent contact with crash investigators in the United States.
"I can understand their anger and impatience," said Patrick Gautrat. But he suggested their complaints were unjustified because "we give all the information we have to our fellow citizens." (238K AIFF or WAV sound)
About 40 French citizens were among the 230 people killed in the crash one week ago off New York's Long Island. So far, 114 bodies have been lifted from the sea, including three found Wednesday -- leaving 116 still missing. Ninety-five of the bodies have been positively identified.
Gautrat said two specialists from the French Ministry of Transportation had been working with the National Transportation Safety Board since the crash. "I talk every day with (NTSB's) Francis or his deputies," he said.
"Our specialists are there," the French official said, apparently referring to East Moriches, New York, where the search and rescue operation is headquartered. Francis corroborated Gautrat's statement later in the day.
"The French government has been represented by its own officials in the investigation since the second day. The French government has their experts here, they're talking to our people all the time," Francis said.
Gautrat spoke a few minutes after about 20 French citizens sought out French reporters to complain about slow progress in the body recovery effort. "We want to find the bodies," one man said.
Speaking mostly in French but occasionally in English, they angrily asked their government to offer French personnel and equipment to aid in the search. "French technology could help," pleaded one young woman, but Gautrat said Paris had not received a request for specific technical assistance.
The Suffolk County medical examiner's office began releasing bodies of crash victims to their families earlier this week, and Wednesday the long series of funerals continued.
Among them was a Roman Catholic Mass for Jill Ann Ziemkiewicz, 23, a new flight attendant. Scores of family and friends attended, and hundreds of tourists and passersby gathered along Fifth Avenue to watch the funeral procession go into St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. Many had tears streaming down their faces, even though they did not know Ziemkiewicz.
CNN-Time Magazine Special
TWA Flight 800
Sunday, July 28, 9p.m. EDT/6 p.m. PDT
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