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Heartbreak Hotel: Families of Victims Gather at Airport Hotel

July 20, 1996

NEW YORK (AP) _ Shannon Lychner’s fate appeared to be linked to the sky.

She was born the day the Challenger spaceship blew up in 1986. She always wanted to be an astronaut. Just last week, she got Buzz Aldrin’s autograph.

Shannon perished aboard TWA Flight 800 with her mother, Pam, 37, and her sister Katy, 8.

Today her father Joe Lychner, of Houston, will be going up in a helicopter over the ocean crash site where his loved ones spent their dying moments.

``I want to find out that they didn’t suffer,″ Lychner said, standing outside the Ramada Hotel at John F. Kennedy Airport where families of the victims have been gathering. ``I want to get a perspective of how it happened, where it happened.″

The girls and their mother had been heading for a vacation in France and were excited about seeing the Eiffel Tower and where Monet painted.

``Whether it was an act or terrorism or mechanical failure, doesn’t make any difference. It’s just incomprehensible,″ he added.


Softly, respectfully, a maid named Noreen knocks on their doors, inquiring about their needs.

``Miss,″ she tells a hotel guest whose door seems to be jammed, ``I think your daughter is playing with the door.″

The silence is followed by the awful truth:

``How I wish my daughter was playing with the door.″

Noreen works at an airport hotel where families of Flight 800 are sequestered.

``Who did you lose?″ she says in her soft Jamaican lilt to a woman, head in hands, crumpled in an armchair near the elevator.

``My only daughter; my only daughter,″ comes the sorrowful reply. A daughter whose birthday would have been today.

Sometimes, as she goes around dispensing her soap and towels and sympathies, the doors stay shut, keeping the world at bay.

Sometimes she is allowed in, and finds them huddled on the bed, clutching their photos for dear life.

``It’s a deep emptiness,″ says Noreen. ``It’s the worst thing I’ve ever felt.″

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