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Thursday, September 3, 1998 Published at 22:59 GMT 23:59 UK

World: Americas

'You must be strong'

Grief at JFK

At Geneva airport in Switzerland and JFK airport in New York, relatives of victims of the Swissair plane disaster spent the day first hoping, then grieving.

Ian Hardy reports from JFK airport
"We do not expect any survivors. We share your grief. You must be strong," said Jean-Claude Ducrot, chief of police at Geneva's Cointrin airport, told the families before he slowly read out the passenger list.

All 229 people aboard the McDonnell Douglas MD-11 which came down a few kilometres of the coast of Nova Scotia are believed lost.

[ image: A social worker comforts one of the victims' relatives]
A social worker comforts one of the victims' relatives
At JFK, the flight's intended destination, members of families who lost loved ones in the TWA Flight 800 crash off New York in July 1997 came to give their support.

"You can never understand what people are going through but [counsellors] certainly draw on that experience of helping people in a different flight disaster," said Michelle Auster, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross.

Many of the relatives were anxious to fly to Halifax, in Nova Scotia, where the Swissair plane headed for an emergency landing before the crash.

[ image:  ]
"It is very important for them to go. Reality will hit them at the time. They will need then a lot of counselling and consolation," said a Salvation Army captain.

A spokesman for the Red Cross of Greater New York, Robert Wingate, said the faces of the relatives betrayed their pain.

"We see very much the emotions we saw in the faces of the relatives of the victims of TWA Flight 800: shock and despair and anger, and some denial," he said.

In Geneva, the departure lounge had turned into a scene of despair.

More than 100 family members of the victims gathered against a background of announcement of flight departures and arrivals.

Swissair Flight 111 was, initially, marked "delayed" on the arrivals board. But anticipation quickly turned into agony.

"He was there, oh my God, he was there," wept an elderly father, hearing his son's name read out from the list of people aboard the crashed plane.

Psychologists arrived at the airport to attempt to comfort people finding it hard to come to terms with what had happened.

Clergymen from many religious dominations were also on hand.

"It's an atmosphere of meditation. There are a lot of people to give support to," said Rabbi Mendel Pevzner.

A middle-aged Mexican woman, Lidia Picco, wept as she explained why her sister was on the way to Geneva.

"I invited her, I paid for her ticket to come. And now she's dead," she said.

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