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.

March: a Month of Great Sorrow for Families of the Victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and Germanwings Flight 9525


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

March 2024

It is the growth of consciousness which we must thank for the existence of problems…

-Carl Jung, M.D.

       The month of March represents enormous grief for families throughout the world whose loved ones died in major air disasters. First, on March 8, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared in the Indian Ocean, carrying 239 souls on board. One year and sixteen days later, on March 24, Germanwings Flight 9525 crashed into the French Alps, killing all 150 passengers and crew onboard.  Both tragedies bore their own unique issues for families of the deceased, employees of both airlines, countless responders, and innumerable others caught up in the ripple by some twist of fate.

       At FAERF, our research on families has shown that each tragedy carries differences that complicate healing. These tragedies involve unique challenges unlike any we have encountered in nearly forty years of supporting families.  Since the need to know the details of what happened and how our loved ones died is a significant need for family members left behind, the great challenge for Malaysia Airlines’ families is obvious. While there is great speculation about the exact cause of the flight’s disappearance and many theories about where the wreckage lies, we still have only speculation about the details today.

    Germanwings Flight 9525 has its own unprecedented sorrows. Families traveled from 18 countries to mourn the loss of their family members and to receive confirmation that the cause of the tragedy was not an accident. Evidence quickly showed the cause of the crash to be a conscious act on the part of the co-pilot. Knowing that one’s loved one has been murdered adds an additional burden to what already began as unbearable grief. 


We cannot do great things on earth, only small things with great love.

-Mother Theresa

    Humanitarian assistance does not begin or end with details of the cause of a tragedy. In both of these, as in all situations where loss has occurred, people find ways to do kind things to help others. In the case of Malaysia Flight 370 stories abounded about community members offering kindness to families who found themselves grieving, and desperate for information where none was to be had.


Small Acts of Kindness

    FAERF leader Mike Kavanagh assisted a family in Perth, Australia, where a husband, also the father of two young boys went missing in the tragedy. Mike shared about many of these kindnesses. Members of the Lions Club International stepped in to restore the family home, as the father had begun renovating the home before he left on the flight. As news of the family’s needs became more public, a television production crew took on the family’s home as a project. To the children’s delight, they received newly decorated rooms, and the home was presented as a showcase home. 

    We also learned that the missing man’s wife discovered her personal bank account was growing without her placing additional money in the account. When she asked the banker about the extra funds, he said that people were depositing money into her account, wishing to remain anonymous. 

    Other stories circulated in the press about things being done for other families. One man whose parents were among the missing passengers asked for very little from the care team who assisted him. His few requests seemed unusual compared to other forms of assistance people were requested—but nevertheless were handled. He asked for a TV antenna and a Golden Doodle dog. A greater understanding of his situation revealed more about these seemingly unusual requests. 

    Just before the tragedy he had separated from his partner and had moved into a new apartment. The tragedy occurred before he had enough time to set up his television equipment properly. He needed the antenna to follow the media’s reporting of the missing flight. The man also explained that when he separated from his partner, he was left without a companion dog. While the antenna fell within the usual items that care, team responders are allowed to provide, the particular breed of dog was more of an expense and challenge. As word of the man’s desire to have a Golden Doodle and the story behind it circulated within the community, two puppies became available through local breeders. To the delight of the survivor and his care team, the survivor now had a choice for his new companion animal.


A Captain’s Heartfelt Apology

     Even before the families of the victims of Germanwings Flight 9525 arrived on the scene, the press was reporting the early findings about the cause of the crash—a deliberate act by the co-pilot. A family survivor whose sister died in the crash shared the details of his family’s experience, including his own travel to the site where the families were gathering. Most, if not all, of the passengers on board his flight were family members like him. 

    Once the flight was boarded, the captain emerged from the cockpit and faced the passengers before the aircraft was moved away from the gate. Using the public address system, he apologized for the other pilot’s actions on Flight 9525. He explained that the families were in his hands now, and they could trust that he would fly them safely to their destination. The survivor described the value of the pilot’s comments as validation that someone in the airline cared about him and the other families. His voice was heavy with emotion and his emotional connection with the families and their suffering over the loss of their loved ones could be felt throughout the cabin. 

    Later, after returning home from suffering with so many others at the site of the tragedy, the man contrasted the heartfelt apology from the pilot with other statements of condolence made by executives at the site. While the first felt like genuine compassion, the latter did not. The other more formal statements felt like they were from someone’s checklist, as opposed to genuine empathy for the families. 

    While nothing can make the month of March easier or more pleasant for the families of the victims of Malaysia Flight 370 and Germanwings 9525, those who are dedicated to the field of humanitarian assistance response, as we are at FAERF, continue to look for ways to provide acts of kindness, albeit, often very small. The fact that survivors share these examples, like the ones described in this article, validates us as responders. Our actions give survivors hope that there is loving kindness on earth, and most importantly, they are not alone in their suffering.


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