Who should deliver the bad news?

My turn

Posted: Wednesday, August 01, 2001

We all saw Tuesday's headline about the plane crash south of Haines. Why do these accidents keep happening? These were tourists that came here to see some Alaskan scenery, not to die. If someone were to have asked them as they flew towards the mountains, "Do you want to risk your life for this scenic flight, or do you want a guarantee of landing safely and seeing your home and family again?" How would they have answered?

The Alaska Aviation Safety Foundation has been working diligently to promote greater safety in Alaska flying and it doesn't seem to be changing the death rate. The Federal Aviation Administration is striving to accomplish the same thing. I attend aviation safety seminars and listen to motivational speakers and so do other pilots, but still these accidents occur.

When a pilot begins to see weather hazards ahead through the windshield, he begins the process of weighing the risks of continued flight. An ultra-safe pilot turns around while the risks are ultra-low. The daring pilot continues where no tourist should be. When that pilot is faced with the decision to continue or to turn back, it is too bad that time can't stand still for a few minutes while the pilot is given the opportunity to actually feel the full impact of his decision. I wish the pilot could feel the loss of a loved one and then make his decision.

Instead of the State Troopers telling the families that their loved one has just been killed in an airplane crash, maybe each pilot in an airline should be responsible for telling them what happened to the wife, or mother, or brother. They would see first hand the agonizing pain. Ahh, but I hear the airline telling me now, "We have had many more pilots working for us in the last six years than the 14 lives which have been lost." I cannot argue with that. Then let each pilot deliver the news to a relative or friend of one those 14 people. There are plenty of those to match up with the airline's pilots in the last six years. Let the pilots see just what effect their decisions in the air have on those people left behind on the ground.

If such a program had been in effect 14 years ago, I would have had a knock on my door on Sept. 20, or actually the 22nd. Three pilots from an airline in Whitehorse would have told me and my two little daughters about the sad news. And two other pilots could have told my wife's parents about what happened to her. Then I wouldn't have been the one to explain the terrible news given to me by a State Trooper.

The writer's wife, Lisa Hodges, died in the Sept. 20, 1987, crash of a small plane that encountered bad weather en route to Juneau from Whitehorse.

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