WOODBURY - Twenty years ago, TWA Flight 800 exploded off Long Island's South Shore just minutes after taking off from John F. Kennedy International Airport. Two-hundred-thirty lives were lost in that instant, and the lives of their family and friends were forever changed.
The tragedy seems like just yesterday for Richard Penzer, of Lawrence, who lost his sister Judy that day.
"I remember hearing that a plane exploded," Richard says. "All I can remember is my mother saying, 'could she be on that plane?'"
Judy was on that plane, taking a spur-of-the-moment trip to Paris. Richard remembers seeing the pictures of debris floating in the water and the long wait for answers from his home in Lawrence.
"It was all summer long - it was an all-summer-long event," Richard says. "I couldn't go and identify my sister, my wife did. It was a long time - it wasn't short."
Richard remembers Judy, who was an artist, like her paintings: dynamic and vibrant. His home is like an art gallery, and one piece of his parents in a happier time immediately grabs the eye. He says his mother was never the same after the tragedy.
Richard deals with his sister's death privately. He does not attend the annual service and has never been to the TWA Memorial at Smith Point Park.
Some of Judy's murals covered the sides of buildings in Pittsburgh, where she was living at the time, and another was in the Bronx.
A life cut short at age 49, Judy is forever young in Richard's heart and home and is forever smiling with a paintbrush in hand.
Richard says he usually does not think about the anniversary date, although this year was different.