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March 8, 2016

Remembering Flight MH370

by: Mary F. Schiavo

We take this day to remember, in thoughts and prayers, the families of those on MH370.

Accidentn. an undesirable or unfortunate happening that occurs unintentionally and usually results in harm, injury, damage, or loss; casualty; mishap.

Several years ago I stopped calling aviation disasters “airplane accidents.”  There are airplane crashes, collisions, or disasters, but not “accidents;” nor are there incidents or mishaps. 

“Accident” implies there is no fault. 

“Accident” implies an unavoidable occurrence. 

“Accident” implies no one is to blame.

“Accident” fails to describe the devastation to the lives not only of those killed or injured in the crash, but also the lives of their families.

 A plane crash has an impact beyond the families of those lost or injured.  A horrific plane crash shakes nations and the world. Governments, politicians, law enforcement, safety groups, attorneys, courts, big insurance companies, and of course, the airlines, airports and other aviation interests all have a stake in the outcome. Each interested party wants something different from the investigation, fact finding and fault finding, and each interested party has a different notion of what should be accomplished in the investigation and litigation.

I have had the occasion to work on aviation cases in many capacities.  As the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation my goal was to identify systemic, nationwide and overarching holes and loopholes in aviation safety and security. As a criminal investigator and prosecutor, working with my special agents and in conjunction with the FBI, to investigate and prosecute aviation crimes. As an Assistant U.S. Attorney I prosecuted those who refused to follow the laws of aviation. 

As an aviation writer and CNN television transportation commentator, I often get the first calls after an aviation disaster and have to draw on experience and sketchy clues to shed light on what may have caused the crashes. And as an aviation disaster attorney, I sift through the evidence and make cases against those whose actions caused or contributed to the loss of a plane full of passengers.  

Throughout my aviation work in various capacities I have found that “closure” is a word often casually tossed about. Government officials use it when they want to quickly move on from the crash to whatever other news is on the front page.  The courts and judges use the word “closure” to encourage families to settle so they can take another case off the docket.  

Most of all I hear attorneys for airlines speaking about “closure,” usually as an attempt to convince families to take a less than acceptable settlement they are offering but which always comes with a denial of responsibility, fault or guilt. 

I have come to realize that, in the minds of many, “closure” equates with escaping responsibility, fault, blame, and accountability. 

“Closure” is used as an excuse. 

The “closure” airlines, insurance companies and governments seek is for their own benefit.  They see “closure” as wiping the slate clean . . . for themselves.

But for families of plane crash victims, “closure” does not come so simply and painlessly, if at all. It cannot be bought with a no-fault insurance check and a release full of denials. It cannot be decreed by a court and the opinion of a judge. It neither starts nor ends at the times and stages as set forth in the psychologists' resource Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV

Instead, what I have been told by families is that they learned to live with the new reality, a reality that their lives have been forever altered...against their choice, without their consent and against their will. 

Families learn to remember, so they will not be surprised when something personal triggers a flashback to a happier time, so they will not reach for the phone and start to call only to remember their loved one died in a plane crash. They try to fashion a new life so they do not relive the pain each time they forget their old life is gone. They get used to their loss, but there is no closure. 

Closure is what others say or do so they don't have to think about it.  Families think about it whether they want to or not. The plane crash is always there, and always will be. Families can only hope to learn how to cope. Many never will.

We express our deepest condolences, thoughts and prayers for all the families.