Taking Care of the Families

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EAST MORICHES, N.Y.: In response to a public outcry from the families of TWA Flight 800 victims, U.S. officials are establishing a hotline to the Ramada Hotel where many of the relatives are staying and have promised to brief the families on any important news, especially the recovery of more victims, before telling the press. The families have been whip-sawed by conflicting news accounts in the chaos since the crash last week. Relatives complained especially bitterly about watching New York Governor George Pataki announce on television that "dozens and dozens" of bodies had been located and would soon be retrieved, only to hear NTSB vice chairman Robert Francis report that Pataki was wrong. On Wednesday, as the families waited in stunned grief, just two bodies were recovered, along with several hundred more pounds of debris, accounting to date for less than 3 percent of the entire aircraft. TIME's Edward Barnes reports that rumors are replacing solid revelations. Some mid-level government officials are telling reporters they believe there is a deliberate delay in releasing the latest official thinking as to the cause of the crash. "There is a lot of talk that intelligence agencies have found out who was behind this and that they are forming a plan of action," Barnes says, adding, "If the intelligence agencies know who did it, the assumption is that they don't want to let on that they know until they're ready to do something about it." Meanwhile, TIME's Elaine Rivera reports that many people believe the government is delaying any major break in the case until after the Olympics. Such speculation, whether accurate or not, only increases the stress on the families of the victims. The families of the 40 French citizens among the 230 people killed in the crash are taking their government to task for failing to do enough to participate in the recovery effort, and for showing too little support for them while they wait helplessly for their relatives to be found. Said one: "I want my brother. I don't want detective stories every day." -- Jenifer Mattos