By Debbie Hersman
Ever since I joined the NTSB, I’ve been continually impressed with the strength of families of transportation disasters. Today was no different. The NTSB’s two-day International Family Assistance Conference has brought together victim’s families, family advocacy groups, transportation industry and government representatives whose role is to assist victims and families. These attendees came from all over the world and represent countries with family assistance programs and countries seeking to establish programs.
This morning family members openly shared their moving and painful stories about losing a loved one in a transportation accident. These experiences created a network of family groups who work tirelessly to improve the way victims and families are treated in the wake of an accident. Because of the selfless efforts of these individuals, families affected by future accidents have more resources and support available to them than ever before.
Most heartening to me was to see so many countries at the conference. Government safety representatives from around the world talked about their programs and in some cases spoke candidly about the lack of family assistance in their region. These discussions went to the heart of the conference – family assistance professionals sharing their knowledge to make sure all victims and families receive the best support available.
There were many poignant moments today, but perhaps the most memorable one came at the end of the day when I had the honor of recognizing Hans Ephraimson-Abt with an award from the NTSB. Hans lost his daughter in KAL 007 in 1983, and in the 28 years since the accident, he has tirelessly worked to improve the care of transportation accident victims and their families across the globe. In many ways, the gallant, soft-spoken man is the father of family assistance through his work with government officials, airlines, and victims groups. Anyone impacted by an aviation accident has benefited from his steadfast commitment. To me, Hans is the epitome of the family members I have had the privilege of getting to know during my time at the NTSB. They are raising the collective conscience of the aviation industry worldwide, and as they work through the pain of their loss, they make the world better for all of us.