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Families of Airline Crash Victims Seek Speedy Information

November 20, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ In the murky hours after an airplane crash, and in the days and weeks that follow, the biggest unmet need is information, families of those killed in air disasters said Wednesday.

``It is essential that families are provided with accurate and timely information,″ Jason Averill, whose father died in the 1994 crash of USAir Flight 427 near Pittsburgh, told the White House Aviation Safety and Security Commission.

``Survivors need information about causes. They need direct, personal communication from someone intimately involved in the investigation,″ Averill said. Hearing the latest update on television ``is not good enough.″

Averill was one of a series of crash survivors and families of those who have died who brought their stories to the so-called Gore Commission.

Jennifer Stansbury, who lost a brother in the crash of American Eagle Flight 4184 on Oct. 31, 1994, in Roselawn, Ind., complained that the hotline set up to help families after the crash was ineffective and the airline was not able to provide needed details.

Later, she said, she was first told her brother’s remains had been identified _ but body parts sent to the family for burial included a piece of scalp with long, brown hair, while her brother had short blond hair.

Such things are ``inhumane and create unnecessary grief″ for the family, she said.

Unidentified remains from the accident were buried in secret and the families only invited later to attend a memorial ceremony, she went on, and personal effects were destroyed instead of being returned to families.

``Families value any personal items that can be returned,″ she said, insisting that the material could be decontaminated if necessary.

Eric Trendell, a survivor of the 1989 crash of USAir Flight 5050 in New York, urged that airlines be required to establish pre-crash plans for dealing with families and survivors.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s policy of ``zero accidents,″ is arrogant, Trendell said. ``More crashes are going to happen, you know that and I know that,″ he said.

Janice Brown-Lohr, a stewardess who survived the 1989 crash of United Flight 232 in Sioux City, Iowa, turned her attention to rules permitting children under age 2 to be carried on the lap of an adult.

``Not all the love in the world can hold that child″ in a crash, she said, citing a 22-month-old who died in the accident she escaped.

``What baby body count will it take to get safety for little people?″ she asked, calling for rules requiring safety seats for children.

The commission hearing came just a day after the State Department announced that seven U.S. airlines have agreed to quickly provide it the names of passengers in a crash to speed up informing the families.

The airlines will turn over the names within three hours after an international accident, and the department will search its records for next-of-kin information and give that back to the airlines, Carol Hallett, president of the Air Transport Association, explained.

The airlines remain responsible for notifying families, but delays in the past have often resulted from lack of information on whom to contact.

``This agreement will help airlines better coordinate family notification with the State Department,″ Hallett said.

The memorandum does not have the force of law, but the Transportation Department is working on regulations requiring airlines to provide such information.

The seven carriers involved in the agreement are American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Northwest, TWA, United Airlines and USAir.

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