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Service Recalls Valujet Crash Victims Many Relatives Angry That Airlines Still Haven’t Installed Smoke Detectors

As pastors, rabbis and reverends prayed in four languages to comfort relatives of the 110 people killed a year ago Sunday in the ValuJet crash, an anguished mother lashed out at the airline.

“My son died because of greed from people who have no respect for other people’s lives,” Carmen Roberts said after a memorial service. “Mother’s Day will never be the same.”

Roberts, who lost her 23-year-old son Philmore Marks in the crash of Flight 592, reflected the anger of many relatives. They complain that federal regulators and the airlines haven’t learned from the crash, allowing planes to fly without smoke detectors and fire sprinklers in every plane.

About 175 people attended the hourlong service at First United Methodist Church. Pictures of loved ones lined the front of the church and a rainbow made of cotton balls and papier mache decorated the arched hallway.

“The rainbow is a symbol of the diversity of expression of faiths, of language, of culture and of nationality,” the Rev. David Smith told the families. “God’s word covers the rainbow.”

President Clinton sent a short note.

“We hope you will be sustained … by the knowledge that even as we grieve together we also recommit ourselves to everything possible to prevent another tragedy,” he wrote. “Americans throughout our nation share your sorrow.”

On May 11, 1996, a fire in the front cargo hold brought down the ValuJet DC-9, killing everyone aboard.

It was a bright clear day when the plane plunged into the muck of the Everglades and almost disappeared. At the service, the Rev. Ray Otto recognized the many religions represented on the passenger list of the flight from Miami to Atlanta. He said all the families were asking God to “touch us with your healing hands.”

Relatives were consoled in English, Hebrew, Spanish and French Creole. Prayers were given for different faiths.

“The pain is still there,” said Marguerite Dingle, who lost her sister, Frances Brown. “There is no closure. We will carry this for a long, long time. It’s a living hell.”

A mother sat with a small boy on a pew to the side, weeping steadily as her young son doodled on a notepad. Relatives lined up to light a candle for each of the victims. As they waited in line, a woman cried out in despair.

A choir of four men and four women sang the 23rd Psalm and Laura Sawyer, granddaughter of crash victims Conway and Anna Laurie Hamilton, read a poem titled: “We remember them.”

“When lost and sick at heart, we remember them … when we have decisions that are difficult to make, we remember them,” she read. “As long as we live, they too will live, for they are now part of us as we remember them.”

The legacy of the crash has been a widespread effort to better regulate the airlines, but many of the suggestions for better fire-warning systems are pending. Many family members are opting for million-dollar settlements to their lawsuits rather than risking lengthy court battles.

The Plain Dealer of Cleveland reported Sunday that a Federal Aviation Administration official assigned to oversee ValuJet’s maintenance from September 1994 to last August falsified his job application and was unfamiliar with aircraft operations.

The Transportation Department’s Office of Inspector General said in a report that FAA inspector David J. Harper “falsified his civil experience as an aircraft mechanic” on his FAA application. The newspaper did not give details.

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