"What about the Passengers?"
As you might guess, I get involved in a lot of discussions related to safety within the helicopter industry and, more specifically, regarding individual accidents that have occurred. I believe the intense examination of an accident is a beneficial education tool, lest we repeat the errors of those that came before us.
On one such recent occasion, something struck me as odd. As I discussed several accidents with a group, I took note that we collectively focused on the aircraft, the crew, the weather, the mission, and all other related topics. Not once did anyone mention the passengers who had been fatally injured.
The desired result of these discussions is to learn what caused the accident and examine the effects of an accident on the industry, the company or aircraft owner, the crew, and so on. Many times we tend to note that, yes, there were X number of fatalities, including the crew and passengers. Most of us either knew the crew or remember them, or read about them and who they were, which is proper. We also acknowledge that our thoughts and prayers go out to the passengers and their families. But what do we really know about the passengers and their loved ones?
I think it would benefit us in the helicopter industry to not only focus on the logistics and technicalities of the accident, but to take that next step and get to know the victims and their loved ones as well as we do the accident event. What end goal would this serve, you ask? It would personalize the event, the loss of life, or injury to a level that would sensitize those involved in the operation of helicopters as to the ultimate loss that has occurred. Hopefully, this new focus would affect our safety culture and decision-making in a positive manner. We are not just talking about aircraft wreckage, litigation, or loss of business or market share here.
We are talking about someone’s parent, child, family member, or loved one, both crew and passengers. A fatal accident always involves at least one life that ended unexpectedly and far too soon. The worst part is that, in almost all cases, this was preventable.
Recently at the National Transportation Safety Board hearings on public aircraft operations, I had the good fortune to meet Ms. Juanita Gomez, mother of firefighter Edrik Gomez, 19 years of age, who along with nine others was killed in one of the helicopter accidents discussed at the hearing. One look in her eyes was all it took for me to realize this woman had suffered a parent’s worst nightmare. What amazed me was her focus and resolve, which she shared with others who had lost loved ones in the accident.
These families’ only interest was to prevent a similar event from happening again. Their hope is that the loss of their loved one was not in vain and that some good will come from it. They want to know that the various stakeholders — industry, government, and end users — truly understand the human loss and pain accidents bring with them. They want an end to our disagreements, blame games, and statistical justifications. They want us to make the accidents stop. Ms. Gomez and the families of other passengers and crew alike deserve nothing less than our best efforts.
We in the helicopter industry have a basic responsibility to make decisions predicated on what is safe and best for those who place their lives in our hands each day. The expectation is that our industry will at all times provide safe, professional transportation and do no harm in the process. Please note: this obligation extends over all sectors of the industry, not just commercial operations. The same expectation holds true for private/ personal FAR Part 91 operators and their passengers, or guests if you prefer, and for the relationship between instructors and their students.
I, for one, am glad I had the opportunity to meet Ms. Gomez and the other families, to hear about their lost loved ones, their dreams, hopes, and lives. For me, hearing that from them provided further focus on our shared goal of No Accidents and more motivation to reach that goal.
What are your thoughts? Let me know via e-mail: TAILROTOR@AOL.COM
As always have a safe flight and fly neighborly.
Best Regards — MATT
Matt Zuccaro is President of HAI.