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Horror of crash coming to rest in Hamptons

Fragments from TWA Flight 800 are washing ashore in the Hamptons, a summer retreat for the very rich.

In the Hamptons, it's not unusual to see film director Steven Spielberg pushing a stroller down the street or spot Martha Stewart, the world-renowned caterer and style maven, walking through town with her perfectly coiffed dog.

The summer homes _ many with front yards as big as football fields _ are known as "estate cottages." The biggest crime problem is a burglar who likes to steal silverware.

But on Saturday, summer visitors in the Hamptons got to see the tragedy of Flight 800 firsthand.

Twisted pieces from the Boeing 747 began appearing in the shadows of the million-dollar homes. Beachgoers were told not to touch the fragments, but many ignored the warnings and even took some as souvenirs.

On Southampton Beach, police Officer Mark Poremba guarded a 1- by 3-foot panel of aluminum wreckage as if he were protecting the palace jewels. "There are a lot of pieces," he said. "It wasn't a small plane."

The red panel, which was twisted on one end and appeared to have light soot on top, was pulled from the water by John Kristich, a casino executive from New York. He forgot about warnings that the wreckage might be a biohazard.

"I didn't even think about it," he said.

"It's sort of morbid," said his friend Kathy Chilton as she flipped through People magazine. "Here you are sitting in this idyllic place . . . and yet there are unrecovered bodies out there."

The aluminum panel attracted a dozen gawkers who stopped and asked about it. An Irish tourist snapped a picture. A worker in a protective rubber suit arrived and placed the panel in a garbage bag. He drove it to a hangar where wreckage is being analyzed.

The plane exploded 10 to 15 miles southeast of the Hamptons on Wednesday night. Debris began washing on shore Friday because of heavy winds and shifting currents.

The National Transportation Safety Board wants to retrieve every piece of debris because bomb evidence might be concentrated in a relatively small section of the plane. Most of the wreckage has sunk 120 feet beneath the water.

Investigators say the bodies of about 130 people are still inside the underwater wreckage. On Saturday, a local TV anchor told viewers matter-of-factly, "If you find debris or bodies on the beach, please contact the NTSB."

That prospect sent a chill through the sunny Hamptons.

"I was reluctant to come out here today," said Sandra Walters, a kindergarten teacher who was staying with a friend in Southampton. "But life goes on."

"It just brings (the crash) home," said Richard M. Miller, a finance manager for Polaroid who was visiting from Boston. "You just wonder what else is out there."

Surfer and artist Mick Hargreaves was more optimistic.

"It could be worse," he said. "It could be hypodermic needles."