Last Friday night, I was able to watch a special documentary at NHK channel regarding the “world’s worst single-aircraft accident in history,” which happened 20 years ago (read more about the story here). That incident involved a Boeing 747 operated by JAL. The aircraft crashed somewhere in Gunma prefecture. Five hundred and twenty persons perished on that ill-fated day. I have harbored such a high regard of JAL all these years – making the erroneous judgment that the more expensive airline usually implies better service. Pity. I didn’t know about the accident until now. In that TV feature, there were at least two surviving relatives whose stories made such an impression on me. One of them was a lady who lost her 9-yr old son. The other one was another lady who lost her husband. She was pregnant at the time of the crash. Her now full-grown 19-year old son remains as the only living remembrance of her husband.
My heart goes out to those people who are still clearly in pain after all these years. I do emphatize with them. Such is the lot that is assigned to us, those who survive after the death of a loved one.
This heartbreaking story has barely begun sinking in (though quite belatedly, given that it has been 20 years since the accident) when just last Sunday, another plane crash grabbed the headlines. A Boeing 737 operated by Helios Airways crashed in Greece, killing all 121 persons aboard. Among the casualties was a yet undetermined number of children. Being a parent, I couldn’t begin to imagine the pain their parents (if not with them inside the plane) are currently going through. No parent ever deserved to see their children die.
While checking for related stories to this recent incident at CNN, to my horror, yet another plane crashed somewhere in Venezuela today, this time with 152 souls aboard the aircraft.
Why so many fatal errors in aircraft safety lately?
Aya has already flown so many times with us. As soon as she is buckled up on her seat, she would lean forward and grab the safety instruction card inserted at the back of the front seat. Together, we would go through each illustration and I would explain to her the meaning of each one. Like what to do when the aircraft lands on water. What to do when the oxygen masks drop down. Where to find the emergency exits. It is a habit which started the first time during a long-haul flight to Hungary. She was getting restless and was making a lot of noises. Quite unprepared, and not having anything else of interest to divert her attention, I grabbed the safety instruction card and explained it to her. Apparently, she never forgot about it, and every time we flew she always remembered to take out the card out of the seat. How could I ever make her understand that it’s no fun to actually see oxygen masks dangling in front of our noses, if and when such a situation ever happens? How can I tell her that for the life of me, I could never, ever be so enthusiastic about having to pull out that life vest under my seat? What good will a life vest do if the plane crashes on a mountain?!!
It seems to me that every parent who flies is fearful of only one thing: that of actually having their children aboard with them. It takes courage to move out of the home’s comfort zone. It takes sheer determination and patience to put them on a flight, especially on long-haul ones. There’s always a risk in everything, transportation certainly one of them. We have never traveled anywhere without travel insurance, not since Aya began her globetrotting with us. It’s such a helpless feeling, to be at the mercy of the pilot’s skills and training, the maintenance crew, the weather, the aircraft itself. The check-in counter is not just a place to check-in your luggage. You are practically checking in your life as well. What happens henceforth is out of your control. I think it’s no coincidence that we use the same word – departure – to refer to both airplane flights and, well, the one we all take: the trip of no return.
If it’s your time, then it’s your time. Any adult would probably have no qualms about that. But for a child…it is simply unacceptable; it runs counter to any human reasoning. Any loving, caring parent will forget about self-preservation in a heartbeat when their child is in the slightest of danger. For the slightest turbulence we experience while flying, I always find myself reaching out to Aya in panic and grabbing her hand in desperation. Talk about being a paranoid mother.
We will be leaving in four weeks’ time. Aboard an aircraft which, hopefully, would safely make the trip, as with all the previous ones we’ve taken. In the meantime, even in the light of the recent aircraft disasters, I would try to convince myself that the probability of the plane crashing is ridiculously small. For the safety of my daughter, I would very much like to believe that to be true.
What else is there to do? Que sera sera.