Angeline Celeste remembers the dad she never met; was born after father died in crash of Flight 587 in Rockaways

American-Airlines-Flight-587-crashed For 9-year-old Angeline Celeste, the anniversary of her father’s death aboard Flight 587 brings back memories of a beloved man she never met.

Her mother was barely a few weeks pregnant when dad-to-be Angel Celeste boarded the American Airlines Airbus A300 on Nov. 12, 2001, only to die with 264 others when the Dominican Republic-bound plane dropped like a rock into the beachfront Belle Harbor neighborhood just three minutes after takeoff.

Angeline — named for her lost parent — arrived eight months later, a bundle of joy for a mother wrapped in sadness. Now each year, mother and child make the trip to Queens for a memorial service honoring the victims killed two months and a day after the World Trade Center attacks.

“Even though I wasn’t there, I still love him,” the little girl told the Daily News as the 10th anniversary of the tragedy approached. “I wanted to know what he was like when I wasn’t around.”

Family and friends will join Angeline and her mother, Maria DeJesus Mena, at this year’s memorial service on Saturday. All 260 passengers and crew aboard the flight were killed, along with another five on the ground in the tightly-knit Queens neighborhood.

“This is unbelievable, that it was 10 years ago,” said Mena. “To me, it’s like yesterday. But I have (Angeline). That’s why I realize time has passed.”

Angel Celeste, like many on the plane, was headed for a Dominican homecoming. The 40-year-old was off to visit his mother, bringing his luggage and some great news: Just three days earlier, he learned Mena was pregnant. Celeste boarded the flight eager to deliver the word of another grandchild along with a video of his stepchildren, Carlos and Tianny — now 18 and 16.

Initially, he wanted to bring the kids along, but Maria talked him out of it.

“I think it was the mother instinct,” she says now, thinking back.

In Belle Harbor, the obvious signs of the fiery crash are long gone — but the memories never disappear.

“Havoc, chaos, just a big explosion, a black sky,” remembers Lenny Sardella, owner of Belle Harbor Cards & More. “There was a sound like a missile, then a big bump ... It was a sad time. It still is.”

The crash was another devastating blow to the neighborhood in the Rockaways, where dozens who died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks lived — mostly firefighters and Wall Streeters.

The annual service is set for 9 a.m. Saturday, with a moment of silence at 9:16 a.m. — the time of the crash — and a reading of the victims’ names. The ceremony will occur on Beach 116th St., where a memorial was unveiled for the fifth anniversary.

“For two years, I didn’t sleep,” Mena recalled. “Thinking, thinking. I slept in the day, but not at night.”

The grieving continued for six years, with Mena wearing only mourning clothes — black, burgundy, deep purple. Visiting the memorial with her daughter brought relief, and the pair came three times a year: Mother’s Day, Angel’s April 5 birthday, and the anniversary.

“I feel very attached to the memorial place,” said Mena, who is now remarried and has a 2-year-old son.

For Angeline Celeste, the grim day will inevitably follow with a happier one — her 10th birthday.

Mena remembers the time after her daughter’s third birthday, when Angeline asked why her daddy was never around, like all the other fathers in their Harlem neighborhood. Mena recalls telling the child that Angel was working in heaven with God.

“Well,” the little girl replied, “can’t God give him one day off so he can pick me up?”

Daily News

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