When TWA flight attendant Cherie Morris and friends get together for lunch, they often put out an empty chair and a wineglass for one of their colleagues lost in the explosion of Flight 800.
On Wednesday, a thousand people gathered at a Kennedy Airport hangar to remember TWA employees who perished a year ago.
“It’s good to see people here, to see them hug,” said Morris, who lost several friends in the tragedy. “We have so much in common. We understand how we are feeling without even speaking about it.”
More than 50 of the 230 people who died when the plane exploded last July 17 were connected to TWA, either as crew for Flight 800, other employees catching a ride on the plane or their families.
Their names were read during the service as colleagues and loved ones sat on white folding chairs inside the football-field-sized hangar.
Flight 800 exploded shortly after takeoff from Kennedy for Paris and fell into the waters off Long Island in hundreds of thousands of pieces.
Flight attendant Janet Nuttle-Collett, who designed a monument to the dead that was unveiled during the ceremony, said she became consumed with the sculpture after learning that TWA was soliciting ideas for a memorial.
She recalled dreaming every night and sketching every day for weeks until the final design for the three-part sculpture came to her: an airplane carved in glass taking off, God’s hands gently cupping a fallen bird and God’s hands releasing the bird as it flies off.
“I believe, in my heart, my hands were a vehicle for God to bring us some peace in our hearts,” she said.
Events for survivors of all the victims are scheduled for Thursday - the one-year anniversary - beginning with a memorial service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the morning and ending in the evening at a Long Island beach not far from the crash site, at the hour the plane went down.
The cause of the disaster remains a mystery. Investigators say the explosion occurred in the Boeing 747’s nearly empty center fuel tank, but they don’t know what sparked it. They haven’t ruled out a bomb or missile.