TWA refuses to aid families’ trip

SMITHTOWN, N.Y. (AP) — Investigators, moved by the financial hardship faced by the families of TWA Flight 800 victims, passed the hat to raise money for meals they ate during a weekend trip to look at the wreckage.
The 150 people will still have to pay their own airfare and hotel bills for Saturday’s first organized tour of the wreckage from the July 17 disaster that killed 230 people.
The families had asked TWA to help pay for the weekend, but the airline declined, even refusing to give bereavement rates to the families attending the tour.
Investigators searching for answers to the crash plan to raise $2,000 to $3,000 to cover the cost of a cold-cut buffet and a dinner at the Smithtown Sheraton.
“The NTSB and FBI and law enforcement are digging into their own pockets to pay the bills,” one investigator said Sunday. He and others did not want to be identified.
“They thought this was a hardship and they should be helped out a little bit,” the investigator said. “All of the agents chipped in to pay the bill.”
The relatives stayed at the Sheraton while they toured a hangar in Calverton, where investigators are reconstructing pieces of the Boeing 747, hoping to find out whether mechanical failure, a bomb or a missile knocked the Paris-bound jet out of the sky.
John Holst, of St. James on Long Island, called the investigators “very sensitive people.”
“This is not just an accident or a crash. They have become family,” said Holst, who lost his son Eric and daughter-in-law Virginia in the crash.
But Holst and others were still angry at TWA for not contributing to the weekend. More than 60 relatives could not attend the tour because they could not afford airfare. TWA refused to offer the discounted bereavement rate, although some other airlines did.
TWA spokesman Mark Abeles said that the airline had already paid for the victims’ funerals and burial expenses.
“We have expended millions of dollars on behalf of these families, and airfare to the tour is not something that is included in that,” Abeles said.
Holst countered, “We are not asking for free tickets from TWA. But we are asking them to give some kind of assistance to us.”