Survivors of Airplane Crash Victims Say They Need Timely Information
RANDOLPH E. SCHMID
Nov. 21, 1996
WASHINGTON (AP) _ ``What I really needed was information,'' the widow of an airline pilot told a commission looking into the treatment of families of crash victims.
``I needed to know where his body was. ... I needed to know the cause of death. ... I needed to know about the autopsy. ... I needed to know if he suffered. ... I needed to know when the body was coming home,'' Susan Ellsworth Shaw told the White House Aviation Safety and Security Commission on Wednesday.
Mrs. Shaw praised the airline's handling of her after the crash of USAir Flight 1493 in Los Angeles on Feb. 1, 1991, but others told tales of less helpful treatment.
Jennifer Stansberry, who lost a brother in the crash of American Eagle Flight 4184 in Roselawn, Ind., Oct. 31, 1994, complained that the hotline set up to help families was ineffective and the airline was not able to provide needed details.
Later, she said, she was 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.
``It is essential that families are provided with accurate and timely information,'' said Jason Averill, whose father died in the 1994 crash of USAir Flight 427 near Pittsburgh.
``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.''
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.''
Legislation earlier this year designated the National Transportation Safety Board as the federal agency in charge of advising and assisting the families of crash victims. Board Chairman Jim Hall chaired the meeting Wednesday.
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 an international crash to speed up informing the families.
The airlines will turn over the names within three hours after an 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, Hallett said.