The Family Assistance Education & Research Foundation (FAERF) has been at the forefront of the evolution of emergency management, combining the head-heart approach for a fully integrated response to survivors of traumatic loss. Practicing consciousness in the workplace involves caring for people first, without exception.

October 31, the Anniversary of Three Disasters that Advanced Consciousness in Aviation Emergency Management


Written by: Carolyn V. Coarsey, Ph.D.


October 2023


“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” – Albert Einstein


The date of October 31 holds significance as it marks the anniversary of three catastrophic air accidents that brought about a significant change in aviation post-crash responses. The impact of these crashes was felt by numerous families, who, amidst their sorrow, collaborated with survivors of previous aviation disasters to enhance support of future victims. Through interviews with family members, employees, and other responders involved in all three tragedies, I will examine a few lessons learned that ultimately paved the way for advancing awareness in aviation accident response and emergency management practices.

American Eagle 4184

Personal Belongings

“I knew my brother carried with him at all times a calendar that served as his planning book. If we had been able to retrieve it from the wreckage, finishing his business and settling his estate would have been a totally different experience.”

-Sister of a man who died in the crash

At the time of this crash, the physical safety of those on board was understandably the focus of response by fire, rescue, and local officials when an accident occurred. Little attention was paid to the recovery and return of personal belongings, especially in a fatal crash. Once all of the human remains from 4184 were recovered, a large bonfire was reported to emergency services near the site. Families would soon learn that belongings left on site were destroyed in the bonfire. The quote above from a sister and the one that follows from a mother exemplify responses when families learned what had happened to their loved one’s personal items.

“My son was wearing a winter coat that I had given him as a gift. I hoped so much to recover even a small part of it. I wanted to make a teddy bear with the wool fabric  as one last reminder of him wearing the coat.”

Mother of a young man killed in the crash

Of the many lessons learned from this accident, the need to recover, identify, and respectfully return the personal belongings of victims of a crash was a major contribution to guidelines for this part of current tragedies. Families described other examples of second assaults which exacerbated their grief. This is only one of the many lessons families from this crash added to the list of improvements needed to help survivors of future accidents.

Families of AE 4184 joined with many other families to support the passage of the Air Disaster Family Assistance Act of 1996. In addition to the sensitive handling of personal belongings, a theme repeated in other crashes with families. Other parts of the act that families help design can be viewed on the NTSB’s website. 

EgyptAir 990

The Need for Practical Support from Company Employees

“We knew the airline did not have employees at the airport to help the families with their logistical and practical needs. Many of us who were trained care teams for other airlines based at the airport, got together and set up a hotline for the families flying in and out. We took turns helping the families traveling to the Family Assistance Center.”

-Airline Care Team Member

When EgyptAir went down in the Atlantic Ocean, all 217 persons perished, resulting in a lengthy, complicated recovery and identification process of the remains of those onboard. A Family Assistance Center (FAC) was established in Providence, Rhode Island, where families gathered to learn as much as possible about the tragedy from investigators and local authorities. It was there they waited also for news as to the recovery of their loved one(s).

EgyptAir’s provider of family assistance did not include employees from the airline but rather support from a behavioral health care company, as well as local and Federal responders. This resulted in the absence of practical, logistical support that is normally accomplished by the airline’s Care or Special Assistance Team.

Interviews with employees at the airport who received the family members who landed in Providence showed once more the crucial role of employee responders. Without any directive from someone in a leadership position, several airline employees from multiple companies organized a hotline to help the families with flights, logistics, and other practical needs that the counselors from the behavioral health company could not accomplish. Interviews with family members revealed gratitude for the employees who paid special attention to family needs.

Effective humanitarian assistance response to survivors of tragedies is not a case of one group of responders being more important than another. It is when we function together as a team, with each group contributing what they know best, that the survivors’ needs are met.

Singapore Flight 006

The Need to Support Crew-members and their Families

“Families of the victims and survivors were escorted to the accident location, but the wives of the three pilots who were initially blamed for the accident were left on their own and received no support from the company.”

-Wife of one of the pilots

Like all air disasters, the cause of the crash was complicated, and after a four-year-long investigation, the pilots were cleared of any wrongdoing. Human factors psychologists proved that the takeoff from the wrong runway was truly an accident. During the time the investigation took to complete, the pilots were under house arrest and treated largely unkindly by many members of the public.

Now retired as a captain with Air Asia, Cyrano Latiff, the co-pilot on Singapore Flight 006, worked hard to obtain his pilot’s license after he was cleared from being at fault for the crash. He and his wife Cyrena have made a significant contribution to raising awareness as to issues of stress that flight crews and their families experience following an accident. Their willingness to share with others about the second assaults they experienced from the airline and others, including community members, took courage and dedication–all with the intention of creating a more supportive environment for flight crew members who may find themselves in similar circumstances.

Currently, Cyrano serves on the Advisory Board for the FAERF Institute and remains dedicated to the field of aviation and to helping others who choose careers within the industry. During the challenges they faced as a family following the crash, Cyrano and Cyrena raised four children, and today are enjoying life as grandparents in Singapore.

The reason why consciousness exists, and why there is an urge to widen and deepen it, is very simple: without consciousness things go less well.

-Carl Jung


Turning tragedy into triumph for many families in FAERF’s research makes living with the losses more tolerable. As the discussion of these three accidents shows, survivors continue to add to the growth of consciousness with these and other improvements.


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