Associated Retired Aviation Professionals

'I Know What I Saw...That Was No Mechanical Problem...No Way!'

By Peter Gelzinis




ROCKAWAY BEACH, NY -"I will never believe it was an accident.

They'll never convince me of that."


Eugene Sanfilippo kept looking past the microphones and notebooks,

down 131st Street toward Jamaica Bay and a vision that the rest of

us could not see.


It was past three in the afternoon, the sky above this sliver of

Queens was clear, but all this lanky, 45-year-old bus mechanic

could see was a huge orange ball of flame; he could still feel the

unbearable heat; he could hear people screaming; he could taste

the acrid black smoke.


And he was still afraid.


"When I heard the explosion, I thought we were under attack,"

Sanfilippo said.


"My first impression was that they'd hit us with a nuclear bomb. I

figured it was just like the World Trade Center. And I watched

that burn from the (Jamaica) bay."


Miles away from where Eugene Sanfilippo stood, at the edge of a

new Ground Zero, a mayor, a president's spokesman and a slew of

FAA officials were urging us to think "accident."


But they were not standing in Rockaway Beach.

They did not lose neighbors and friends across the bay in

Manhattan on Sept. 11. Black crepe still hangs here, along with

the memories of funerals for roughly 80 cops, firefighters and



To look into Eugene Sanfilippo's eyes was to see there were no



"Every day," he said, "I fear more and more for the safety of my

family. Why should we be made to suffer this way?"

Tommy Rayder, who works at JFK Airport, kept looking past the fire

barricades, toward a place where the autumn leaves had been burnt

off the trees.


The homes that were gone belonged to neighbors Tommy knew,

"because in this part of the city, we all know everybody."

"I want to believe it was mechanical. I'm hoping it was an

accident. These days," Tommy Rayder sighed, "an accident is what

you pray for.


"That's a weird thing to say isn't it? Here, a jet plane comes

down in the middle of a neighborhood, and you pray it's an

accident because you can't bear to think they'd do it again to us.

"Not here, not in Rockaway. You figure it couldn't happen again

cause we already suffered enough."


Standing a few feet away, James Gill tried as best he could to

comfort his wife who appeared to be deep in the throes of this new



"We are up on the Cross Bay Bridge," James Gill said, "driving

over from Richmond Hill to look at a house.


"My wife saw the whole thing. What she saw was an explosion, way

forward on the engines, sort of just behind the cockpit.

"I had to pull over, just there on the bridge. Amanda was

hysterical. She dialed 911 on the cell phone, and just started to

scream, `Help me! Help me!' "


After being rocked by the sound of an initial explosion, James

Gill said he looked up to see American Flight 587 in flames and

attempting to bank, only to wind up in a flat death spiral.

"I was in munitions in both the Army and also the Navy. I know

what I heard and what I saw. That was no mechanical problem. No



Howard Greenberg rushed home from his law office in Manhattan to

find his wife shell-shocked.


After seeing the plane fall, and believing it was going to kill

both her and her children, Howard Greenberg said his wife spent

the next few horrific hours running over body parts in the

direction of her neighbors' burning homes. She was carrying

blankets and water.


"I'm afraid," Howard Greenberg said, "that my wife believes this

is another incident. She'd probably tell you that herself if she

was able to talk. I'm afraid that's impossible.


"Personally I might like to believe that it was something else,

but when you've been told that this whole area is being considered

as a crime scene, and that FBI agents are looking in your yard and

on your roof for evidence, for pieces of jet wreckage or human

beings, then it becomes hard to make a case for coincidence.

"Now that all may change, but right now this is simply too much to



After being told to vacate her home, Lilly Reynolds looked into

the faces of the strangers swarmed around her.


"You know, after so many of our neighbors and friends died in

September we were just getting back to some idea of normal, then

this happens.


"My God, you say, they've done it again. What else are we supposed

to think?"



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