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Airport hotel ready for sad, familiar role

Published Sep. 10, 2005

For the fourth time in five years, a nondescript hotel at the edge of Kennedy Airport has become the gathering spot for families grieving over the loss of life in a commercial air disaster.

Known locally as "Heartbreak Hotel," the six-story Ramada Plaza Hotel was first used for that purpose in July 1996, when hundreds of relatives converged after Paris-bound TWA Flight 800 blew up off Long Island, killing all 230 aboard. Some stayed for weeks, awaiting identification of their kin.

The hotel opened its doors to families again two years later after SwissAir Flight 111 crashed in Nova Scotia, killing 229. The scene was repeated a third time after EgyptAir Flight 990 plunged into the Atlantic on a flight to Cairo in 1999, killing all 217 aboard.

On Monday, the hotel again became a gathering point after the crash in Queens.

Within hours, the Ramada was ready for an influx of relatives, setting up private space in the lobby and offering food and other comforts to the grieving.

Negotiators tackle security again

WASHINGTON _ Calls for tighter airport security grew louder Monday after the crash of an American Airlines jetliner in New York.

"Regardless of the cause of this crash, we have to get a strong aviation security bill passed this week," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. "The American public needs it, to give it confidence. And Congress has no excuse not to do it."

Hutchison is one of 21 negotiators from both houses of Congress charged with reconciling competing aviation security bills. The negotiators will meet again today.

House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., told the Associated Press on Monday that the crash might get House Republican leaders "off their duff" to approve tougher airport security measures.

Airline insurance likely to climb

NEW YORK _ The crash should have no major impact on the overall insurance industry, but will be a factor in driving up airline insurance premiums.

"If it is mechanical in nature, this should be the same as any other crash in the past," said Loretta Worters, a spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute.

"It will be a sizable loss, but the insurance market can absorb it," agreed Bill Yankus, managing director at Fox-Pitt Kelton, a brokerage firm that specializes in the insurance industry.

Worters said airplanes are typically insured for $1.5-billion, which is usually enough to cover such disasters.

Airlines usually pay $1.5-million to $2-million to the family or loved ones, she added. That would amount to roughly $500-million because there were 255 people on board American Airlines Flight 587.

Worters noted the situation could be complicated because she believes this is the first time an airline crashed into a heavily populated residential area.

American Airlines said family members wishing to receive information about passengers involved in Monday's crash may contact the airline at this toll-free number: 1-800-245-0999.

_ Information from the Associated Press and Cox newspapers was used in this report.