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TWA explosion victim's body will be home soon

Leonard Romagna says things are better now that his ordeal is nearly over and his wife, Barbara, can come home.

Barbara Romagna was among the 230 people who died on TWA Flight 800 when the Paris-bound jetliner exploded July 17 over the Atlantic Ocean shortly after takeoff from New York's John F. Kennedy Airport. Her body was identified Wednesday. It will be cremated before being returned to Florida for a memorial service.

"I'm just worn out about the whole thing," Romagna said Thursday by phone from his home in south Hillsborough County's Sun City Center retirement community.

More than half the victims' bodies now have been recovered, and authorities said Friday recovering the rest would be a priority.

Romagna, 76, last saw his wife of 50 years at Tampa International Airport as she began her two-week trip to France. After hearing about the explosion, Romagna spent 36 hours trying to get TWA officials to confirm that his wife was on board the flight. They did, but only after Romagna saw his wife's name on a list of passengers published in a newspaper July 19.

The retired corporate advertising and communications manager was furious about how he was treated by TWA, a frustration shared by many other friends and relatives of the victims.

It took awhile, but Romagna now feels better, aided by a three-day trip to New York. Romagna said TWA flew him there on Saturday, paid his expenses and provided counseling at the Ramada Plaza Hotel, where family members have been staying. Authorities provided regular briefings about the process of recovering bodies.

"I think they did as much as they could with a bunch of irate people yelling and screaming at them," he said.

TWA spokesman Don Morrison said the airline did its best to notify victims' families under the circumstances and now is doing everything it can to help. "Invariably something does occur that you wish did not occur and you feel bad about it," he said.

Romagna came home Tuesday after providing authorities with information they needed to identify his wife's body. He got a phone call Thursday morning from the Suffolk County Medical Examiner's office that she had been identified.

Now, he said, the only thing left to do is schedule the memorial service once he knows when Barbara can come home.

"I won't know until I have the ashes."