Foundation, reminding you that a fully-integrated approach for assisting survivors of
traumatic loss involves a balance of head and heart. Wednesday Wisdom is written
and copyrighted by Carolyn V. Coarsey, Ph.D., and distributed by the Family
Assistance Education & Research Foundation Inc., www.fafonline.org. Reprint is
available with written permission from the Foundation.
Lessons Learned from Survivor Speakers, Santiago,
Chile, September 2018, Part II
"The airline had filed an emergency plan for our station operation, but they
never shared it with us who worked at the airport."
–Ariel Prado, Customer Service Agent, LAPA Flight 3142
At the Latin American Aviation & Transportation Member-Partner Meeting in
Santiago, Chile, September 5-6, 2018, survivors from three tragedies in Latin
America presented. In the previous Wednesday Wisdom, lessons learned from a
family survivor of the Germanwings Flight 9525 tragedy, Pablo Alegría, were
discussed. This publication will feature major points presented by survivors of the
LAPA Flight 3142 accident which occurred August 31, 1999. A third publication
will feature major points learned from Claudia Cereghino, who survived the 1994
Machu Picchu rail disaster. The LAPA left 65 deceased and 40 survivors.
Ariel Prado, who currently serves as Supervisor of Emergency Response
Management for LATAM, opened the discussion about the accident by talking
about how he and his colleagues responded the best they could in the absence of
a station emergency response plan. Ariel and his colleagues learned later that a
plan had been filed with authorities, but the plan had never been shared with the
Trying to accommodate friends and relatives of those on board the flight, Ariel and
his team worked quickly to confirm who was on board and provide any
information they could learn about the status of the passengers and crew
members. Ariel confirmed what our research and experience shows about
survivors who are frightened and worried about loved ones in the initial stage of a
crisis. People were anxious and frantic to receive information about their family
members, but did not display anger and hostility toward the employees who were
trying to assist them—they expressed gratitude.
Of the many stories that Ariel shared, two examples follow that we believe should
be shared for training purposes. Not too long after the accident, the chief executive
officer began a business meeting by requesting that those in attendance join him
in a moment of silence for those survivors and families of the crash of Flight
3142. We believe this executive demonstrated respect for the passengers and
crew survivors as well as all family survivors. This scene from the meeting was
picked up by a local network. The footage validated his employees as well as all
of the responders and everyone involved in the tragedy.
The second example pertains to two passengers who escaped the accident on their
own without physical injuries. Local reporters videotaped the two survivors
discussing their experiences of the crash as they waited for a friend to arrive and
drive them to their respective homes. One was visibly emotional, while the other
spoke with a ‘matter of fact’ tone, illustrating how survivors’ reactions can be so
different in the aftermath of trauma. The video then shows both survivors
breaking down emotionally when their friend arrived. We believe this provides
an excellent example of how any survivor, be it family (secondary) or primary—in
this case primary/passenger survivors, often spontaneously release emotions
when they feel safe and instinctively know they no longer need to feel ‘in control’.
The above example is especially pertinent to the training of Care Team or Special
Assistance Team personnel. Often when the team arrives, survivors who initially
appeared in total control suddenly break down emotionally and allow their
helplessness and dependency to be seen. Our research shows that when
survivors release emotions the way these two did, it is an indication that
the team members are creating a safe, nurturing environment—where survivors
feel safe in “letting go”.
Cristina was a fairly new flight attendant on reserve and therefore did not know
the flight attendant or the pilots who died during the crash. She and one other
flight attendant survived with no visible injuries. Cristina described much of her
own distress following the accident as being related to the fact that others were
not able to accept her statements that she was not suffering emotionally.
Cristina escaped the crash on her own, after providing as much assistance as she
could to passengers who had survived. She was forced to spend the night in the
hospital, where the medical team heavily tranquilized her—despite her pleas
not to be medicated. Denied food and water, Cristina amused the audience when
she admitted to stealing food from another patient in the hospital.
Determined to fly again, Cristina was forced to see a psychologist for a year
following the crash in order to be cleared for continuing her career. Today Cristina
heads-up flight attendant training for a new airline in Argentina, Fly Bondi. Cristina
provides a great example of human resilience. Whereas at the time of the crash of
LAPA Flight 3142, great emphasis was placed on the symptoms associated with
trauma, and there was a tendency to over “pathologize” the experiences of survivors.
Clinical research over the past twenty years acknowledges the innate ability of
humans to not only survive trauma, but to thrive, in many cases like Cristina’s.
"I told everyone at the flight attendant base and the hospital that I was fine,
but no one would believe me."
-Cristina Iglesia, Flight Attendant Survivor of LAPA Flight 3142
Whereas it is true that some who are exposed to traumatic events like the crash that
Cristina survived, would potentially have more symptoms, and even suffer from
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, newer research is showing that PTSD is more likely
to be the exception rather than the rule. Those in leadership today in both the
aviation industry, as well as, hospitals are better educated on the resilience of human
A cornerstone of the programs taught and practiced at the Foundation emphasize
providing choices and options to employees, just as we do for all survivors. Except
where the company is concerned about whether a crew member is fit to fly, no one
should be forced to see a counselor, or anyone they do not wish to see. And a major
emphasis is placed on bringing family members to survivors as soon as possible, for
we know that as helpful as our care and special assistance team members
are—being with those whom the survivor considers to be family, will always be the
healthiest connection. And the greatest joy for many employee responders is to know
that the company has empowered the team members to bring survivors and families
together as soon as humanly possible.
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