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S P E C I A L S TWA Flight 800

Families return to N.Y. for TWA memorials

memorial July 17, 1997
Web posted at: 1:13 p.m. EDT (1713 GMT)

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Family and friends of TWA Flight 800 victims gathered in New York Thursday for several memorial services marking the one-year anniversary of the fiery crash and remembering the 230 people who died in the disaster.

St. Patrick's Cathedral on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue was packed Thursday morning for a memorial Mass remembering the victims of the still-unexplained explosion. Among those in attendance with the families were FBI Director Louis Freeh and Cardinal John O'Connor.

In the afternoon, New York Gov. George Pataki is hosting a memorial service at Smith Point Park on Long Island, near the crash site.

Another service is planned Thursday in Montoursville, Pennsylvania, the hometown of 16 high school French Club members and five adult chaperones who were among the victims.

TWA Flight 800, a Paris-bound Boeing 747, broke apart minutes after takeoff from Kennedy Airport on June 17, 1996, and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean.

Slide show of memorial service at St. Patrick's cathedral for TWA 800 victims' families and friends
video icon 660K/1 min 16 sec. QuickTime movie

President Clinton, speaking in Washington, said he wished there was an answer for the families about exactly what happened that night. "It's been a very frustrating experience for me not to know 100 percent what caused that crash," he said.icon (222K/20 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

Hundreds return to share grief

"I hope that this weekend will be a turning point," said Cindy Hurd of Maryland, whose brother, Jamie, died in the crash. She was among hundreds of people who returned to share their grief and remember happier times.

"No one knows better than anyone here what we're going through, what we feel, because they're going through the same thing," said Aurelie Becker of St. Petersburg, Florida, who lost her teen-age daughter in the crash.

TWA flight attendant Cherie Morris lost several friends in the tragedy. She said when she and friends get together for lunch, they often put out an empty chair and a wine glass for a friend lost in the explosion.

"We have so much in common. We understand how we are feeling without even speaking about it," Morris said.

Morris was among some 1,000 TWA employees who gathered Wednesday at a Kennedy Airport hangar, where TWA held its own memorial service to remember TWA employees and their family members who died. An 800-pound stone and steel sculpture was unveiled at the ceremony.

Meanwhile, investigation continues


Government investigators say an explosion within the plane's center fuel tank caused the crash, but they don't know what caused the explosion. Officials have been reluctant to completely rule out a bomb or missile, but in recent public statements they have leaned heavily toward mechanical failure as the likely cause of the blast.

Investigators this week are conducting test flights using a 747 to recreate the conditions of the crash. Three to four test flights have been conducted and another set is planned, National Transportation Safety Board Vice Chairman Bob Francis told CNN Thursday.icon (229K/22 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

"There's no limit on any of these things in the totality of this investigation," Francis said. "As long as we think that there's something else that we can do that may lead us to the answer, we're going to continue to do it."icon (219K/20 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

FBI Assistant Director Jim Kallstrom also told CNN Thursday he was determined to find an answer.

"We know that some of these things don't come easy," Kallstrom said. "We see a lot of cases that take years and years to solve. So we're used to that. But in our blood, in our gut, we want the answer, obviously."icon (341K/30 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

Some want TWA, Boeing to pay


Family members want the answer as well. Some also want financial compensation.

Joe Lychner, who lost his family on the flight, claimed the crash was a result of the age of the Boeing 747, coupled with what he called "an original design problem" in the craft. He said TWA and Boeing should compensate surviving family members.

"One year ago, TWA and Boeing killed my entire family and killed 227 other people. And they are responsible for that," he said.

Victims' families must seek compensation under the Death on the High Seas Act of 1920, which effectively limits lawsuits by survivors to lost income. The Supreme Court has ruled that the maritime act is the only law that applies to airline disasters in international waters, such as the TWA crash.

"The issue is that, unless you were a wage earner, under the Death on the High Seas Act, what their contention is, you have no worth at all," Lychner said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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