By Ray O’Hanlon
Belle Harbor might just the second most Irish neighborhood in the United States.
The most Irish by zip code, according to Census Bureau figures, is Breezy Point. And that’s right next door.
Both of them, and just about the rest of the Rockaway peninsula, have been coping in recent weeks with the aftermath of the World Trade Center disaster.
Dozens of firefighters, cops and financial services workers with ties to the area were lost in the Sept. 11 attack on America.
St. Francis de Sales Catholic church, only yards from where American Airlines Flight 587 crashed Monday, has been an all-too-reluctant host to a seemingly endless procession of memorial Masses and funerals during the last two months
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But on a cool Veterans Day morning there was at least the hint of a break, a sense that Thanksgiving and Christmas might offer some comfort and a welcome distraction.
But it was not to be. Another plane was down in New York and this time it was in a part of the city that was virtually the diametric opposite of the downtown financial district.
Firefighter Joe Duggan was off duty at his Breezy Point home when American Airlines Flight 587 found its own ground zero.
A member of the FDNY Emerald pipe band, Duggan was readying himself for another day and another firefighter’s memorial Mass, this time on Staten Island.
“My power went out and I thought a fuse had blown,” Duggan said. “But then my girlfriend called and said that a plane had hit the Rockaways.”
Duggan jumped into his car. He was wearing an FDNY sweatshirt. It would have to do for a uniform.
Duggan, who is attached to Ladder Co. 176 in Brooklyn, arrived at the crash site within minutes.
“I did what I could. I grabbed a helmet and gloves and manned a hose.”
Duggan met his brother Brian at the scene. Brian is a lieutenant in the police department.
“It was definitely a big help that so many firefighters and cops live in this area. We were able to get at the fires very quickly,” Duggan said.
After thinking for a moment Duggan added: “Rockaway really needs a break now.”
For many residents in the Belle Harbor neighborhood, the crash of Flight 587 brought home real moments of fear and concern. Literally.
Marion and Daniel Coughlin were just out of bed and preparing breakfast when they heard an enormous bang.
Part of the doomed plane had landed less than two blocks away.
“I first thought something had hit our house,” Marion Coughlin said.
A mother of 10 children, Coughlin realized a moment later that her home was intact. Her son Kenny had by now rushed out the front door.
“He ran back in and told me and my husband, Daniel, to get dressed immediately and get out of the house,” she said.
Kenny had a second look at what had happened outside. He could see the plane’s engine, which had landed in a nearby Texaco gas station. Miraculously, it had not set the gas ablaze.
“Kenny came back and said we would be all right. He told us to stay in the house,” Marion said.
“It was a terrible mess outside,” said her husband, Daniel, a native of Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal.
Not all those living so close to the crash site realized how close their brush with death had been.
Ann Dougherty’s home at Beach and 129th St. is only around the corner from the main crash site.
She was walking her dog near the ocean at the moment of impact and heard little but the sound of a strong ocean breeze.
It was only when she returned home and turned on her TV that she learned of what had taken place so close to her front door. “I got a little shook up,” she said.