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