Many Long Islanders are unaware that at the entrance way to Smith’s Point Beach stands the TWA Flight 800 Memorial. Once one exits the legendary underpass on foot, they are greeted with a very moving tribute to those who lost their lives that summer evening in July of 1996. The TWA Flight 800 Memorial is located at Smith’s Point Beach at Suffolk County’s Smith Point County Park. The Memorial stands a bit elevated above the rest of the beach and is protected by concrete barriers that are hidden below the sand to protect the TWA Flight 800 Memorial from future storms and erosion.
On the evening of July 17th 1996, at approximately 8:31 PM, a Boeing 747-100 exploded mid-air and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean near East Moriches on the southern coast of Long Island. The plan had lifted off from John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, TWA Flight 800 had only been airborne for twelve minutes before the aircraft exploded in the air and crashed down into the Atlantic. The plane had been destined to land in Rome on the Italian Peninsula. Sadly all passengers aboard the aircraft lost their lives.
When news of the plane crash began to be reported, there were many stories circulating that TWA Flight 800 had been shot down by a missile. There were many reports that witnesses had observed a missile hit the plane over the Atlantic. An investigation into the crash of TWA Flight 800 began the next morning by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Bureau of Investigation However, after sixteen months the Federal Bureau of Investigation closed its investigation and ruled out any terrorist activity, declaring that the plane crash was not due to terrorist activity.
The National Transportation Safety Board kept the case open four more years after the initial crash. The result of the most exhaustive and expensive air related investigation in aviation history was that fuel vapors from one of the plan’s fuel tanks had caused the explosion. A plaque at the site describes the events that occurred the evening of the crash. The plaque states that “a fatal explosion of controversial origin occurred in the vicinity of the center fuel tank, rupturing the fuselage and setting the plane afire.” The plaque was written to pay respect to those who lost their loved ones and may have never accepted the results of the investigations that no foul play occurred.
Smiths Point Park was chosen to host the location of the TWA Flight 800 Memorial because of its close proximity to where the flight crashed in the Atlantic. Although, the flight crashed a few miles East of Smith’s Point Beach, the park seemed to serve as a public area that could serve the thousands of people who visit Smith’s Point Beach every year. Even in the winter months, the site attracts a great deal of visitors. We observed that first hand as we visited the TWA Flight 800 Memorial in the middle of January. Even in the cold of winter, the Memorial severed a steady stream of visitors.
The labor that went into building the TWA Memorial was built by many union workers for free. Local union workers consisting of carpenters, electricians, plumbers, etc all donated their time in helping build the TWA Memorial.
TWA Flight 800 Memorial opened to the public on July 17th 2002. It was designed by the architectural firm, Busch Associates. The TWA Flight 800 Families Association was responsible for making sure there was a fitting Memorial where family members and friends could go to help with healing process. The Memorial provides enough protection for privacy, while at the same time stands in the open air and view of the Atlantic Ocean that served as the burial ground for the many list lives of TWA Flight 800.
At the Western portion of the TWA Flight 800 Memorial stands high a collection of flags from various nations that represent where the passengers of TWA Flight 800 Memorial were from.