Here is your Wednesday Wisdom article 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. The Wednesday Wisdom series 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.
Answering the Call to Consciousness through Living a Life of Service
There is no higher religion than human service.
This weekend marked the twentieth anniversary of the crash of Singapore Flight 6, October 31, 2000. Coincidentally, I conducted an update interview with AirAsia Captain Cyrano Latiff. Cyrano was the co-pilot on the flight. The accident occurred during typhoon-related conditions resulting in 96 injuries and 83 fatalities. Members and followers of the Foundation are familiar with Cyrano's name due to his contributions in educating care and special assistance team members on the challenges a pilot and a family face in surviving a crash and its aftermath.
Cyrano provided a detailed summary of his experience with the accident, including challenges he faced during the investigation, which took place over two years in anearlier article. While the investigators eventually ruled the crash as an accident, he was stripped off of his pilot's license and the identity associated with his life's work. Cyrano struggled to regain his license and career, which resulted in his job flying for AirAsia. Throughout all of this, he never forgot the role that other pilotsplayed in helping him with feelings of self-worth and value as a human being during his battle.
As no one could have predicted Covid-19—our team had no way of knowing how valuable the peer support team would be in providing connection and support to employees confined to hotel rooms. They were alone, isolated, and unable to go home to families and friends.
In 2013 Cyrano was instrumental in the development of the AirAsia Peer Support Program for crew members involved in in-flight turbulence, deaths on board, and various critical incidences. As the program has grown, other employee groups can now participate, and many types of crises receive attention. Cyrano heads up the program and has trained many others to assist their co-workers during stressful times.
Like no one could have predicted Covid-19—Cyrano and his team had no way of knowing how valuable their peer support team would be during this unprecedented crisis. They provided connection and support to the employees who in a lockdown were separated, isolated, and unable to go home to their families and friends. Cyrano, like many crew members, was stranded in an accommodation in Malaysia from March 18 until August 17, 2020.
Being alone in a room, feeling uncertain about how long the isolation might last, reminded me of the time twenty years ago when the investigative authorities detained our crew in Taiwan following the crash.
Being alone in a room, feeling uncertain about how long the isolation might last, reminded Cyrano of the time twenty years ago when investigative officials detained the pilot crew in Taiwan following the crash. As a necessary part of the accident investigation, Cyrano and the flight crew were sequestered for several weeks, with strict rules about who they could talk to—family and a few pilots. In addition to the emotional support he received from his wife Cyrena, his parents, and other family members, Cyrano remembers the invaluable role that fellow pilots played during that period of isolation.
In describing the value of peer support during the early days following the crash and throughout the investigation, Cyrano spoke of the validation and sense of connection he felt with other professionals who shared the same job, faced the same challenges, and experienced the pressures airline pilots face. While the reason for being stranded alone in an accommodation room was quite different from the conditions following the 2000 confinement, Cyrano recognized the similarities and went to work on offering support to others who were isolated and alone.
Common themes included loneliness, unpredictability, anxiety, and feelings of depression.
In addition to peers trained by Cyrano, his team includes a medical doctor who is also a line pilot, a psychotherapist, and a counselor. The peer support team members know how to recognize when a co-worker needs help involving more than they can offer and how to make a referral. But all understand that their most valuable contribution to their peers consists of listening and helping fellow employees feel safe and emotionally connected, regardless of the cause for their distress.
Cyrano talked about common themes in the discussions with the peers who became stranded due to the pandemic and his sense of isolation twenty years back. In addition to feeling alone and cut off from family and friends, common themes included anxiety and feelings of depression. Fortunately, over the years, technology has made support easier to access, such as the app that AirAsia created for the employees. They can download and quickly access peer support. Cyrano talked about uploading videos and music and sending them to peers to offer supportive messages in addition to conversations. Many have commented that the music alone lifts their mood.
I arrived home on August 30, and my first grandchild was born on August 31.
Like peer support, Cyrano highlights the enormous value of his family's love in the aftermath of the crash of Singapore Flight 6 and all the years since. While confined to his accommodation room when he was unable to leave Malaysia due to the pandemic, his family including wife Cyrena, three sons Juffrino, Wyryono, Ruzdeeno, daughter Shereen, father and mother, were at the forefront of his daily communications. A significant life event with a deadline increased the urgency of his arrival home—the birth of his first grandchild. Suri Latiff was born on August 31, one day after her grandfather arrived home in Singapore. With gratitude, Cyrano was able to share this momentous occasion with his entire family.
I want to use my time going forward to make my best contribution to others.
As our discussion neared the end, Cyrano reflected on what he has learned in the years since the crash twenty years ago that put him on a different life path than anything he might have imagined. Serving others in whatever way possible is now, more than ever, the way he plans to live out his life.
The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Peer support programs for aviation employees was largely unheard of until the late eighties, as the programs were initially practiced by public safety employees exposed to critical incidents. Pilots who survived fatal accidents in United States brought the program to the aviation industry and later it grew to include other parts of the world. Experienced pilots like Cyrano saw the need to bring peer support to their own country.
Two of the first and well-known US airline crashes where formal peer support programs were developed for pilots include Aloha Airlines Flight 243, Honolulu, HI, April 28, 1988 and United Airlines Flight 232, in Sioux City, Iowa, July 19, 1989. Captain Al Haynes who died thirty years and one month after Flight 232 crashed, devoted his life to creating awareness on the need for mental health and peer support for pilots in the aftermath of accidents and other critical incidents.
Like many pilots and others throughout history, Cyrano answered the call to consciousness (awareness) of what matters most, when he survived Singapore Flight 6, October 31, 2000. Determined never to be a victim and always to be a survivor, his life and legacy has become a model to those who come behind him.
. Captain Latiff is serving on the Survivor Advisory Board in the creation of the Trauma institute, which the Family Assistance Foundation is co-founding at Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge, LA. Click here for press release.