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Wednesday, 14 November, 2001, 01:03 GMT
New York children's crash trauma
Plane debris in a Rockaway garden
Residents campaigned for a change in the flight path
Megan Lane

Families in a quiet residential neighbourhood witnessed a plane nose-dive into their community on Monday. How are the children coping?

Six-year-old Jennie O'Hara was still in bed when Flight 587 nose-dived to earth, just blocks from her house in the Rockaways, Queens, on Monday.


Our kids are scared - it's very upsetting when something like this comes into your neighbourhood

Monsignor Geraghty
"Daddy, my pillow shook," the scared first-grader called out to her father, Bob, a retired policeman, as the American Airlines Airbus erupted into flames.

The day after the crash, she has been unable to return to school - and instead walks the streets, clinging to her father's hand.

Her school, St Francis de Sale, is behind police barricades, barring entry to the crash site. Just a street away, NYPD tents shroud the downed plane.

Bits of wreckage and surgical gloves litter the pavement, clothing spilled from luggage on the passenger jet dangles incongruously from phone lines.

Children traumatised

The school is closed for the time being - its playground is doubling as a makeshift command centre for the emergency crews working at the crash site. On Monday it served as a temporary morgue.

The basketball court is filled with police trucks, news crews and portable toilets.

Six-year-old Jennie O'Hara and her father
Six-year-old Jennie O'Hara is scared and bewildered
Although pleased to get an extended holiday from school, Jennie is one of many Rockaway children more than a little scared and bewildered.

Monsignor Martin Geraghty says the school's 770 pupils will receive further counselling.

It is a process that began shortly after the terror attacks of 11 September, which claimed the lives of at least 70 Rockaway residents.

"Our kids are scared - it's very upsetting when something like this comes into your neighbourhood," Monsignor Geraghty said.

The local artists collective also plans to restart art therapy sessions for the children, begun in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center.

Horrified onlookers

The nearby Belle Harbor School acted as a frontline triage centre on Monday. It will now offer counselling to teachers, students, parents and any other members of the community who want it.

Burnt out Rockaway house
Many houses were destroyed in the crash
Although the primary school reopened its doors on Tuesday, almost half of its 825 pupils stayed at home. For those who did come to class, teachers tried to make it as normal a day as possible, except for a special assembly with New York Governor George Pataki who praised the children's bravery in carrying on their usual routine.

Around the corner Joan and Bob Devine sit on their front porch surveying the damage done to their neighbours' house by a falling engine.

The day of the crash, the annual Veterans' Day holiday, they had been hosting their seven-year-old grand-daughter. Together they had watched the plane spiral to earth.

"She came here for some peace and quiet - but I sent her home to Long Island straight after the crash," Joan said. "My daughter took her to a psychologist immediately - the little girl was scared she was going to die."

Fear of flying

Pat Corby, a mother of six, was at home on Monday with her two youngest children, while her eldest daughter had gone to the shops for coffee.

"When the plane came down I just ran out of the house with my two youngest, looking for my oldest daughter. It took two hours to find her, but she was OK."


We've been through a lot here. The last memorial service was held last Friday, now we'll have to start all over again

Pat Corby, Belle Harbor resident
Mrs Corby 's best friend, Cathy Lawler, was among the Rockaway residents killed on the ground.

"We've been through a lot here," said Mrs Corby, standing stunned and tearful on a street corner near the crash scene.

"The last memorial service was held last Friday, now we'll have to start all over again. "

For this small community life is returning to normal in one unwelcome respect.

The flight path which runs directly over Queens and Belle Harbor re-opened hours after the crash.

Residents have long campaigned for the planes to be diverted, fearful of such a tragic crash.

With each plane that rumbles overhead, both children and parents glance skyward, knowing their fears have been realised.


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