NEW YORK (AP) – Five years after Katy Batista lost her mother and sister in the crash of American Airlines Flight 587, it’s hard for her to look at their pictures, much less visit the site where they died.

But she makes her way to the site every year, even though there are few physical reminders of the tragedy beyond a plaque. Soon, the 31-year-old Batista will have another place to mourn.

Today, the fifth anniversary of what was the second deadliest aviation accident in U.S. history, the city is dedicating a much-anticipated memorial to its victims. The memorial includes a curved wall bearing the names of the 265 lives lost, many of whom resided in Washington Heights, a heavily Dominican neighborhood in Manhattan.

“Now we can touch their names, we can see their names there,” said Belkis Lora, president of the Committee in Memory of Flight 587. “To me, it’s like we’re going to be on board the aircraft in that memorial. Once we go to the memorial we’re going to be there with our loved ones.”

Flight 587 plunged into a quiet neighborhood in Belle Harbor, Queens, on the morning of Nov. 12, 2001, just minutes after taking off from Kennedy Airport for a trip to the Dominican Republic. The crash killed 260 people on board and five people on the ground, further rattling a city still shaken by the attacks on the World Trade Center just two months earlier.

The road to building a Flight 587 memorial had its stumbling blocks. Many of the victims’ families wanted a structure at the scene of the crash, but many people in Belle Harbor opposed the idea, saying a memorial wouldn’t fit in the residential neighborhood.

“To come up to my house where a family is living and memorialize it there just it doesn’t seem appropriate,” said Seth Goldberg, whose home was damaged by the plane but has since been rebuilt.

Others said they didn’t want a constant reminder of the tragedy, especially in a part of New York City that also was home to many firefighters who died on Sept. 11. The bickering got ugly at times, with some claiming racism against Dominicans, a charge denied by those in the heavily Irish and Jewish neighborhood.

Eventually, a compromise placed the structure about 15 blocks away in a less residential spot. The $9.2 million memorial was designed by Dominican Republic native Freddy Rodriguez. It is being funded with private and public money.

“Any conflict that we have in the past and any confrontation that we had in the past, I think it’ll stay in the past,” said Lora, who lost her brother, Jose Lora, in the crash. “The families are very comfortable with the situation.”

The memorial may be a done deal, but other matters remain unresolved.

Most of the lawsuits stemming from the crash have been settled, but about a dozen cases from the estates of passengers killed continue, as do some dealing with people injured or killed on the ground, said Ladd Sanger, a lawyer for some crash victims.

The explanation for the crash hasn’t satisfied everyone, either.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the tail of the Airbus A300 had fallen off, and the agency blamed pilot error, inadequate pilot training and overly sensitive rudder controls.

Lora said many in the Dominican community felt the explanation was too simplistic but that conspiracy theories that the crash was an attack hadn’t gained much traction.

“We feel like we really don’t know what happened to Flight 587,” she said. “I think we haven’t had the real truth.”

The NTSB recently said the Federal Aviation Administration and the European Aviation Safety Agency should do more to adjust planes’ rudder system designs, but it has stood by its findings.

“Our investigation lasted over three years, it’s well-documented. We’re confident we found what happened in this case,” said Ted Lopatkiewicz, a spokesman for the NTSB.

The memorial wall has windows and a doorway offering views of the ocean. Also included are benches, trees and flowers. Beyond the names, the wall also bears a quote, in English and Spanish, from the writings of Dominican poet Pedro Mir: “Despues no quiero mas que paz/Afterwards I want only peace.”

Batista said peace is exactly what many of the victims’ families still seek. She’ll be searching for it as she looks up the names of Daria Soriano, her mother, and Noemi Batista, her sister, on the memorial wall.

“If I had the chance in my life, if I had the chance to give all the money in the world to bring my mother and my sister back, I would do it,” she said.


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