Families, Friends Mark 10th Anniversary of ValuJet Crash

Maria Bafunno knelt and gently touched the name of her brother, Giuseppe, inscribed on a cemetery stone marker that lists the names of the 110 people killed when ValuJet Flight 592 plunged into the Everglades 10 years ago Thursday.

"It seems like yesterday," the West Palm Beach resident said as she attended ceremonies on the crash anniversary. "It's good to be with all the people who went through the same things."

About 80 relatives and friends of Flight 592's passengers and crew were joined by federal investigators, who talked about changes since the crash.

"It took the loss of 110 lives for that change to occur," said Greg Feith, who was the lead ValuJet investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board.

Passenger airlines can no longer carry as cargo the oxygen generators blamed for starting the fire that brought down Flight 592. The Federal Aviation Administration also ordered the installation of fire detection and suppression systems in cargo areas.

The FAA's inspector general at the time, Mary Schiavo, said the crash also spurred federal laws and airline policies that treat victims' relatives with greater respect and provide them with more information.

"These families sort of stood together and banded together like no other crash before it," Schiavo said. "That was a major, major change in the law."

AirTran Airways, which arose from ValuJet's ashes, now has one of the newest fleets of aircraft flying to 50 destinations. The maintenance contractor blamed for the mishandling of the oxygen generators was convicted in 1999 of state criminal charges of recklessly supplying the devices and went out of business.

Like many family members, Marguerite Dingle, of Baltimore, said she felt compelled to take part in the anniversary because there were no remains recovered of her sister, Frances Brown. Clutching a framed photograph of her sister, Dingle said her emotions of a decade ago came back with a rush when she got to the airport to make the trip.

"All of those feelings resurfaced. The phone calls. Telling our mother," she said. "The hardest thing about bringing closure is that we have no remains. We have to come to Miami to fully pay our respects."