Anguish turns to anger Relatives call TWA, coroner insensitive

July 22, 1996|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN STAFF

First came the network updates, warning of a plane headed for Paris that instead plummeted south of Long Island. For families like the Carvens of Bel Air and the Hurds of Severn, those words broadcast Wednesday evening brought the wretched realization that loved ones may have been killed.

Four days later, the Carvens and the Hurds are still suffering through a lesser, but still enraging ordeal: the indignity of waiting in the purgatory of an airport inn for scraps of information from airline officials and the Suffolk County, N.Y., chief medical examiner's office.

Despite daily briefings by the National Transportation Safety Board and the county medical examiner, the relatives of the 230 people believed dead from TWA Flight 800 say few details are forthcoming. And they are angry.

"I don't think you can imagine what it's like for families up here," said A. Frank Carven III, 44. His sister, Paula Carven, a 42-year-old flight attendant from Bel Air, and her 9-year-old son Jay, were flying to Europe for a brief summer vacation. "There is no comfort level here," Frank Carven said.

Like the Carvens and so many others, the family of Baltimore resident James H. Hurd III has spent the past four days at the Ramada Plaza Hotel at John F. Kennedy International Airport waiting. Jamie Hurd, 29, a graduate of Old Mill High School and Towson State University who lived in Canton, was scheduled to catch up in Paris with his girlfriend, who teaches French at a Baltimore high school.

"We got here on Thursday morning and expected to take my brother's remains home with us," Stephanie Maranto, 31, said last night. "As it is now, we're leaving here probably within an hour and we don't have anything to take back with us. Now we have to go home and wait for closure."

Hurd, a weekend warrior fond of rugby and softball, was the manager in his family's Glen Burnie auto shop. Officials told the Hurds that Jamie's body was not among those recovered.

The two Maryland families spoke after attending a memorial service late yesterday afternoon in a hangar at the New York airport. The parents of 29-year-old Crownsville schoolteacher Pamela Crandell, the fourth known Marylander on Flight 800, were returning home late last night after Crandell's body was identified by medical examiners, Maranto said.

Venting frustration

The Hurds and the Carvens are among many who believe it has taken far too long for the county medical examiner to identify the bodies that have been recovered.

"Day after day, it's the same bull," said Frank Carven, an attorney who was once a senior aide to former Maryland Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg. "It's the same questions. For days they couldn't tell us how many men, how many women, how many children [rescuers had recovered]."

On Saturday night, Carven and the family members of several other passengers stormed outside the hotel, venting their frustrations to reporters as television cameras rolled. Some questioned whether any information hinting at terrorism was LTC withheld because it might deflect international attention on the Atlanta Olympics and raise security concerns there as well.

But anger was mostly directed at officials for failing to identify the bodies of their relatives. As of Saturday night, only 10 people had been identified. A New York state judge whose fiancee died demanded that the coroner be fired.

Medical Examiner Charles Wetli has been sharply criticized by New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Guiliani and Gov. George E. Pataki for his refusal for several days to accept forensics assistance from state and federal agencies.

By midday yesterday, after Wetli relented to pressure to accept help, medical examiners had identified 36 of 100 bodies reclaimed from the Atlantic Ocean off East Moriches, Long Island, and notified their relatives.

Initial response criticized

TWA's initial response also angered family members.

In the hours immediately after the disaster Wednesday night, Carven could not reach TWA officials to confirm whether Paula and Jay Carven were on board. Finally, when Frank Carven spoke with someone about 1: 30 a.m. Thursday, the airline representative sought as much information as he could provide and offered none in return.

The parents of Jamie Hurd still have not received official notification from TWA that their son was on board the plane, Maranto said. A service representative informally confirmed it to Maranto's husband when he was calling Thursday to make arrangements to fly to New York.

Carven stressed that he was upset with airline executives who oversaw the company's response to the tragedy, not with the employees themselves. "The employees of TWA are phenomenal," Carven said. "They are all heartbroken, too."

Wetli defended his efforts at a news conference last night as "nothing short of Herculean," according to the Associated Press, and said it may be several more days before the rest of the recovered bodies are identified.

As they wait for confirmation of the worst, families are huddling in their rooms or in the hotel's downstairs lounge, catching bits of news on CNN or, as they seek to distract themselves from the tragedy of Flight 800, watching the first few days of the Olympics.

"It's basically like a bad dream, and I'm just waiting for someone to wake me up," Maranto said.

Pub Date: 7/22/96

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