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.
“Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them."
-Bruce Lee, American Actor (1940-1973)
At the 2018 America’s Partner Meeting, we were honored to hear from survivors who
had much to share about their incredible stories of survival and transcendence. Dave
Sanderson, a survivor of US Airways Flight 1549, the accident known to most as the
"Miracle on the Hudson," gave an inspirational and informative talk about his survival.
He presented details about the great job that the US Airways Care team did to support
him and other survivors. Dave’s presentation brought to mind memories of survivors
from the past whose willingness to share their stories likely contributed to the
successful response to US Airways Flight 1549.
Twenty years before the accident Dave survived, on September 20, 1989, US Airways
Flight 5050 crashed on takeoff into the Hudson River, resulting in two fatalities and 61
survivors. Both flights were bound for Charlotte, NC. Another resident of Charlotte by
the name of Byron Crowley, who survived Flight 5050 also felt validated by the
successful response to US Air 1549. Byron’s interview was captured on video and
detailed in my book Handbook of Human Services Response. His story became
the example used in early training on the Invalidated Victim—an essential model in
the approach to assisting survivors during a crisis.
US Airways 5050 was one of the six airline accidents included in the original research
which helped establish guidelines about how airline employees could better support
passenger survivors following a crash. Initially trapped in the debris from the
overhead bins released upon impact, Byron finally escaped the aircraft and was
rescued. But not before becoming soaked with water and jet fuel from the crash
Byron was triaged at the hospital and released. He flew home the following morning
in his wet clothing, carrying his personal belongings in a Macy’s shopping bag. But
more than the humiliation he experienced, Byron was haunted by the information he
received about the two women who had died in the same accident. A mother and her
daughter were killed upon impact, as they were seated at the exact location where
the aircraft broke apart. Byron learned that the younger of the two women was the
mother of a three-year-old. Over time Byron healed from the trauma, other than the
survivor guilt he felt toward the two women who perished and the young boy who lost
his mother and grandmother.
In the same year as the successful ditching of US Airways Flight 1549, the
Foundation held an aviation conference in Calgary, Canada, which was sponsored
by West Jet Airlines. At that meeting, the Foundation leaders were able to introduce
Byron to a family member of the two women who died in the crash. To his delight, as
well as the audience, Byron was presented with pictures and information from the
family about the young man and how successful his life had been, in spite of the loss
of his mother and grandmother at such a young age. Byron expressed gratitude for
the opportunity to meet the family member and how much this helped him with the
guilt he had carried for twenty years.
"Failure is instructive. The person who thinks, learns quite as much from his
failures as from his successes."
-John Dewey, American Philosopher, Psychologist (1859-1952)
Those in leadership positions who learn from survivors like Byron make their own
distinctive contribution to responders as well as the survivors themselves. Over the
years I had numerous conversations with Byron, many times following accidents
where he could see the improvements that were occurring in how airlines and other
agencies responded to crashes like the one he survived. Each time he learned of
effective responses, he felt validated and as he knew that improvements were being
made from his and other survivors' experiences.
Responders throughout the world benefitted by Byron’s frank and explicit description
of his experience on videotapes shown in countless training sessions. Improvements
in the response by EMS, Port Authority, local hospitals and the airline care teams
resulted from leaders being open and non-defensive about previous mistakes that
were made as the field of emergency response has evolved.
Byron died in 2014, at the age of 82, peacefully at home with his family. While Byron
never set out to be our teacher any more than he ever imagined surviving an airline
accident, in his humble way he did just that. His willingness to share about his
experience for the benefit of helping responders and future survivors made a
difference. And his contribution was seen and felt by Dave, the other survivors, and
crew members who indeed became "Miracles" on the Hudson that day. I am grateful
to Byron and his wife of 60 years, Shirley who shared so much of themselves for the
benefit of others.
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