WW82 July 3, 2019: An Employee Survivor Looks Back, Twenty Years Following the Crash of AA Flight 1420

Wednesday Wisdom Series July 3, 2019
Can't read or see images?  View this email in a browser

July 3, 2019

Here is your Wednesday Wisdom series from the Family Assistance 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.

An Employee Survivor Looks Back, Twenty Years Following the Crash of AA Flight 1420

 As part of the Foundation's case study research, several passengers, family members, and numerous American Airlines' employees were interviewed for the purpose of learning what they felt was helpful and unhelpful in the aftermath of the accident. Last month's Wednesday Wisdom (June, 2019) featured an interview with passenger survivor Jeff Arnold. This month's article features an interview with an American Airline's employee at the time.

    Greg Klein was the General Manager of the Little Rock station (LIT) where the crash occurred. Over the years, Greg and I have had many opportunities to discuss his experiences in the accident response, beginning with the night when the crash occurred. Greg also appeared in a video that I produced specifically for assisting American Airlines with training and preparation for station response. The video was entitled   The Critical Hours.

    Due to Greg’s honesty about the challenges of the response, twenty years later Greg is a popular speaker to airline and   other industry managers. As his responses to the following questions will show, another major strength that contributes to his success as a presenter, is Greg’s willingness to show his vulnerability and the enormous emotional toll that the crash of American Airlines Flight 1420 took on him.

    Greg was asked the same questions that were presented to passenger survivor Jeff Arnold. Following are his responses to the seven questions.

Several things occurred over the next several hours, days, weeks, months and years that gave me support. It started that night when I received positive feedback from our Vice Chairman, Bob Baker. 

-Greg Klein General Manager, Little Rock, Arkansas 

at time of the crash of AA Flight 1420

1. CVC: How did you see the accident from a spiritual perspective?

GK: From my standpoint, as a responder, I don’t think I ever thought of this event from a spiritual perspective. I do remember at one point in the early morning after I was advised on a conference call that our “Go Team” would be traveling to LIT as quickly as possible, I walked outside and while standing under the jet bridge to get some fresh air, I cried. The pressure was extreme and I prayed to God for the strength I needed to get through that morning and the entire event.   

    While the accident of AA1420 was a horrible event, I see it as an event that was caused by weather and human error.   I never once thought of the crash as an event that was part of God’s plan.  

2. CVC: Where did you get emotional support during the first few weeks?

GK: Several things occurred over the next few hours, days, weeks, months, and years that gave me support.   It started that night when I received positive feedback from our Vice Chairman, Bob Baker.   We talked in private by phone and he assured me he was available to me if needed and he would support anything I needed or wanted to do.   His confidence in me and my abilities to deal with the situation gave me strength and emotional support to get through that night and the upcoming days, weeks, and years.

    My immediate boss arrived the next day with two of my peers and they were there to help me.   Managing a small station made me the expert in all areas and I had many calls for help.   Be it the aircraft maintenance team over the hill working to recover the aircraft, sitting with my employees to try to help them deal with the emotions going on, responding to CARE Team and Go Team requests, etc.   One of my peers was by my side constantly and my boss and the other peer ran the many conference calls my station was being invited to sit in on.   Having these three friends by my side allowed me to open up or cry whenever needed so I look at these three gentlemen as constant support givers to me.  

    American Airlines assigned a very caring Employee Assistance Program (EAP) representative to my station and he was there to help all those members of the LIT team. This gentleman did an incredible job floating throughout our facility, talking to any and every employee at work and he was constantly showing up by my side when I would sneak outside for a fresh breath of air and time to reflect.   Several years later, I called EAP for myself and the response on the other end of the phone was “I have been waiting for this call for a very long time.”

    Once work got back to as close to normal as it could, I decided I had to be at every one of my four sons' school/sporting events so I could try to get myself back to feeling normal. I now think this event numbed me to life. When in public, I kept a low profile because I was embarrassed that the company I loved had caused so many people in my community harm. Many of my employees expressed this same feeling.      

3. CVC: What actions did you take to get through/finish the business of the crash?

GK: For my entire career, I was driven as a manager to work hard to create a team spirit among my employees. I felt it important they think of me as one of the team members. One employee said to me that “he went over the hill” because he knew I needed his help. He said that compared to all of the other managers he had worked for, I was the only one who made it known that we worked together as a team. His other bosses made it known that the employees worked for the manager.  

    I felt LIT had very good employees and they worked well as a team.   Most of the LIT employees   really understood the need to take care of our customers and they had my confidence.   The night of the accident,   I had excellent employees on duty and excellent employees who responded to our call for help.   Having good employees on duty gave me one less thing to worry about.  

    My bosses at American always allowed me to run my station as if I owned the business and I wanted the employees to make decisions.  

    I felt my management team was strong.   The first manager to arrive gathered the hand full of ramp employees on duty and proceeded to the accident site to help and feed information back to me.   The second manager went to the triage site and started gathering as much information as possible on each passenger going through triage and sending it back to my office.  T he third manager went to the family and friends gathering site to assist with the people waiting there at the airport inquiring about their loved ones.   As we gathered information from the site and triage on who was going where, we funneled that information to the family and friends gathering site and that information was passed along to those waiting for their loved ones.

    I felt each area worked well considering the fact that we didn’t have a lot of manpower.   I always trusted my employees' ability to make good, common sense decisions. I knew I had to support each of them more than manage them.

    After the accident, I often said my management style was to treat my employees fairly and with respect so if I ever needed them to follow me over the hill, they would– like they did that night.

    I am forever grateful to each of my LIT employees.   They were the main reason I was able to get through the business of the crash.

4. CVC: Did you need to forgive anyone? If so, who was it?


(Greg and I discussed that in order for many survivors to move forward in the integration of trauma, forgiveness may be part of their journey. Greg did not feel that this question applied to him.)

5. CVC: What have you done to create from the trauma?

GK: Since the accident, I have told my story to several aviation groups in an effort to help them understand what we, the LIT employee responders went through in Little Rock. I stress to each group who asks me to speak, the crucial need to properly prepare everyone in your station– not just the management team.   You never know who will be on duty when an accident occurs—so everyone needs to be prepared to respond.   One individual can not do it all. You need help and you need everyone performing properly.  

    Each time I speak to a group of airline station management,   I can feel I am really connecting to the group.   I am one of them.   I am a peer talking to them who actually experienced a major accident event. I can see in their eyes that my story is really hitting home.  

    I feel they know that I am not a “suit” from corporate.  

6. CVC: Have you integrated the experience into your life?   What did you leave behind and what do you carry with you?

GK: I think the experience of the accident caused me to look at my job and life a bit differently from that point on. Once, when assessing a situation on our ramp that included aircraft damage, my first question to my manager was, “Is anyone hurt or has anyone lost their life?” I was trying to make a point that we deal with weather, machines, and man… none of which can be totally controlled. After he answered “no” I provided my thoughts on how I thought we should deal with the situation and we moved on. I think I was a kinder boss after the accident.   

    In my life, I think I am way more aware of safety and I am not afraid to speak up if things do not look right.   I can assure you I am very aware of the location of the exit row on every flight I board in relation to my seat location and I look for exits when I enter buildings/rooms with the goal of always knowing the quickest way out if something happens.

    Overall in my life I think I am a more confident individual because I was thrown into a very difficult situation. I dealt with it and I survived.  

7. CVC: This question is about your connection with Spirit/God. How do you stay connected to those who have gone before you?

GK: Each morning, I start my day with a special prayer and in that prayer, I reflect on all those people close to me who are sick and/or have passed. I find starting my day this way reminds me how lucky I have been to have all these people in my life and it keeps all those who are/were special close to me. This seems to let me start my day on a positive note.    

I knew the night of the LIT crash that Greg was our most valuable resource. It was his station and his people. I needed to instill in him the confidence that I felt in him to be the leader that I knew he could be.

-Robert Baker, Vice Chairman, American Airlines 

at time of crash of AA Flight 1420

    Following the crash of AA Flight 1420, I was privileged to interview Mr. Baker about the beginning of CARE Team and their robust family assistance program that preceded the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act, 1996. I knew that he had played a major role from afar in the way he supported Greg the night of the crash, and for years that followed. Greg had previously shared about the conversations that transpired between them. It was another example of Mr. Baker’s contribution to the team’s ability to respond to the customers, each other, and all families involved.  

    Since American was the first airline to use the research that drove the initial family assistance program, it was fortunate that Mr. Baker, with his many years of experience was there for the industry to help shape the entire field. In the upcoming Wednesday Wisdom I will share more about his philosophy regarding an organization’s response as well as what he had learned about directing an airline accident response at the corporate, as well as local level.

© 2019 Higher Resources, Inc./Aviem International, Inc.

Not interested? Unsubscribe | Update profile
Aviem International, Inc. | 555 North Point Center East Suite 400 Alpharetta, Georgia 30022