Recently commercial plane crashes have dominated the news. First, the Miracle on the Hudson, then Continental Flight 3407, and now Turkish Airlines Flight 1951. What assistance is available to family members when a commercial plane crash involves a family member?
The first place to turn is the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB serves as the point of contact within the Federal Government for the families of passengers involved in the accident. The second place to turn is the Red Cross. They are the designated nonprofit organization which has the primary responsibility for coordinating the emotional care and support of the families. The Red Cross provides counseling services, provides an environment for the family to grieve, meets with families who travel to the accident, contacts families who do not travel to the site, and communicates to the families about the various roles of the entities involved in the post-accident activities.
Where a commercial plane crash occurs in the United States the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act sets forth very concrete requirements the airline must follow to respond to the needs of the families. Similarly, if the commercial plane crash occurs outside of the United States, the terms of Foreign Air Carrier Family Support Act, may apply. This Act largely mirrors the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act. These acts are worth studying, they set forth the rights of families. The list below is not all inclusive but may provide some guidance to family members.
After an aviation disaster, an air carrier must:
(1) Publicize a toll free number to handle calls from family members;
(2) Provide a list of passengers to the Red Cross;
(3) Ensure that each passenger is consulted with respect to the disposition of remains and personal effects;
(4) Ensure that possessions will be kept for at least 18 months;
(5) Ensure that families are consulted about the construction of a monument to the passengers;
(6) Help pay for family members to travel to the location of the crash.