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More People Said To Seek Help For Fear Of Flying

August 26, 1987

CHICAGO (AP) _ More people are seeking help for their fear of flying and some under treatment have suffered setbacks since the Northwest Airlines crash and a string of near-collisions and other mishaps, some experts say.

″Our secretaries report more inquiries lately, and we get several hundred inquiries each week,″ Susan Kanaan, executive director of the 6,000-member Phobia Society of America, said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

The Northwest crash near Detroit on Aug. 16 killed 156 people in the nation’s second-worst air disaster.

In addition, there has been a spate of near-collisions, mechanical failures and other problems involving U.S. airlines in recent weeks.

In one of the lastest incidents, a Northwest jetliner Monday passed within 500 feet of a twin-engine plane 30 miles west of Boston, but both planes landed safely, the Federal Aviation Administration reported.

″In the clinics, our clinicians report more people experiencing a setback in their treatment because of the latest events,″ said Ms. Kanaan, whose Rockville, Md.-based organization of researchers, pyschologists and people with phobias provides information on the treatment of phobias.

She said something as dramatic as the Northwest crash ″always drops the scale back from progress.″

T.W. Cummings, a retired Pan Am pilot who wrote the book ″Freedom from the Fear of Flying″ and offers tapes and seminars for fearful fliers, said interest in his book and tapes is up lately.

″And people in my last seminar asked me some questions about the crash in Detroit,″ he said in a telephone interview from his home in Coral Gables, Fla.

Burt Siegel, a psychologist who heads the Institute for Stress Control in suburban Hinsdale, said Monday: ″My patients are a little concerned, but nobody is saying, ’My treatment is being set back a few months by it.‴

Siegel said he has not had any increase in patients since the crash.

He said the patients he counsels privately or in groups usually are highly motivated to lose their flying phobia.

″These people are missing out on an important part of their life because of it. Their work, their family, their social life are connected to flying, and they are missing out on these things,″ said Siegel, who claims a 90 percent success rate.

One of his former patients, Helen Gaynor, said recent airliner accidents ″obviously make one wonder, but the statistics are there - it’s safer to fly than to drive your car, and I just drove home from downtown in the rain, and I can vouch for that.″

Mrs. Gaynor, 48, of suburban Riverside, took her first flight in May after eight or nine sessions with Siegel and is now attending school to become a travel agent.

Cummings said those who are afraid can fly only if they ″admit their problem is what they feel about it, not the actual danger itself.″ He said the biggest problem in fighting the phobia is the attention accidents receive from the news media.

″Over the last five years, the yearly average for deaths from flying U.S. airplanes is less than 100. The daily average is 123 on the nation’s highways,″ he said.

″It’s front-page news if one jet engine malfunctions, but all jets fly safely with only one engine operating.″

Statistian Terry Miller of the Chicago-based National Safety Council said Tuesday that deaths from airline flights average about 100 annually. Aviation deaths overall, including fatalities involving private planes, run about 1,100 a year, he said.

Deepak Patel of Contrail Travel Inc. said Tuesday he has noticed no drop- off recently in airline business.

″Some people have asked not to fly Northwest - especially to Detroit,″ he said. ″But this is normal after a crash like that. This always happens. In two weeks, things are back to normal. They forget about the crash and start using the airline again.″

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