Responding to tragedy

News has come in of a tragic aviation aircraft accident in China. A relatively young Boeing 737 aircraft has been lost with all soles on-board. The Boeing 737-800 (B-1791) was built in 2015. As is often the case, social media is full of speculation. Even at the earliest moments after this catastrophic event, comment was being made of the limited information available.

There is a divide. Some people, out of respect for those who have perished make a point of saying that they will not speculate around the information that’s public. Other responses fit into a couple of camps. Let’s just say that there’s informed comment and ill-informed comment.

It’s reasonable to feel that ill-informed comment can step over into the realms of the disrespectful and inconsiderate. That rarely daunts a lot of users of social media.

A first response should be one of compassion. When a great number of passenger and crew fatalities occur the question of – why has this happened? Will come up soon enough. In the first instance a tragedy deserves a moment of reflection. It’s our natural human empathy. The pain and suffering of the families and friends of those who are not coming home, should be at the front of our minds.

After a moment has passed the call for action is rightly the next most urgent response. However, action based on scant information is a most difficult step. Often, such actions are precautionary. Imagining, the worst-case scenario, like the potential for reoccurrence of the accident, and then act accordingly. The cry is rightly – something must be done.

At this stage, as an aviation professional I have no problem with informed speculation. In this fast-moving digital world, that we live in, the flow of information is like a torrent. It cannot be easily stopped. At least not in our free and open societies. Therefore, it’s better that informed comment be given a space, otherwise the ill-informed variety will dominate.

Comments appear not only on the fatal accident but the response that has followed. That can be tough to hear when the first responders, emergency services, investigators and regulators get armchair critics commentating immediately on their performance.

Again, I’m not going to say this should stop. Transparency is vital if the public are to have confidence in the civil aviation. So, tolerating rough commentary that turns out to be wrong is part of the realpolitik. Although, it would be good if such commentors admitted when they had got it wrong.

Post tragic event, as information flows start to become more reliable so informed comment becomes more of an honest reflection of what happened. It’s as well to be remind that fatal aviation accidents with the loss of all on-board are rare. It’s always crucial to analyse what happened and act rapidly to prevent any possibility of reoccurrence. Whatever the commentary and speculation, that must not effect the work of the bodies who have the responsibility to take corrective action.