TIMES UNION, Albany, N.Y.
WEDNESDAY, May 16, 1990
SOME RELATIVES ENCOURAGED, OTHERS BITTERCombined wire services
The relatives of Pan Am Flight 103 victims, armed with a presidential commission's finding that the explosion of the airliner may have been preventable, vowed Tuesday to pressure world leaders into action against countries that sanction or harbor terrorists.
Emotions ranged from encouragement to bitterness for the 250 family members who came to Washington to hear the report.
At the White House Tuesday, Joanne Hartunian's thoughts were filled with her daughter, Lynne.
Hartunian, a 21-year-old student at the State University at Oswego, was returning from a semester in London on Dec. 21, 1988, when the plane exploded over Scotland. Joanne Hartunian recalled that she was in their Niskayuna home, making shish kebab - Lynne's favorite dish - in anticipation of her homecoming. The phone rang. Lynne's boyfriend said, "'There's been a crash.' Then I turned on the news. I knew she was gone."
After the President's Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism released its report on the disaster, faulting the Federal Aviation Administration and Pan Am for security lapses, Hartunian said she felt encouraged.
"I think (the commission) is trying to fulfill its commitment by finding out the truth," Hartunian said at a news conference called by relatives of Pan Am 103 victims. "The system (for preventing terrorism) has to get better. It was completely inept."
"I feel better about the government's response," said Georgia Nucci of Claverack, whose son, Christopher Jones, 20, was returning with a Syracuse University group after studying in England. "But let's see what they do with it."
Nucci said she believed that commission members, including Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato, R-N.Y., had "their consciousness raised. They ended up being as angered and disillusioned as we were, without the grief added on."
But she added, "The question is: Will it convey to the people whose job it is to make changes?"
Family members were most critical of the State Department's action prior to the Pan Am 103 bombing in circulating to diplomats, but not the public, a warning of a possible terrorist attack.
Prior to the report's official release, family members received a White House briefing on its contents from commission Executive Director James B. Weidner. President Bush also appeared briefly and promised vigorous pursuit of the terrorists responsible for the bombing. The families received flags from the President.
"For many of us, this has been the most satisfying day since Dec. 21, 1988," said Bert Ammerman, head of one of the two formal relatives' groups formed after the explosion. Ammerman's brother, Thomas, died on the flight.
Many of the relatives wore buttons - "Iran killed them," some said - and many had pictures of their loved ones pinned to their chest.
The relatives of the victims lit candles at Washington's Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in memory of the victims. The candles were labeled "justice, security, warning," - the three themes the families have stressed.
For Paul Hudson of Albany, who lost his 16-year-old daughter Melina, the report brought a feeling of accomplishment: "One of the other family members said it very well," he said. "Life is an epic poem. Each of us gets a chance to write maybe one verse. We tried to write this one."