Families Urge Better Treatment after Fatal Crashes to Hill Panel

By Field, David | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 20, 1996 | Go to article overview

Families Urge Better Treatment after Fatal Crashes to Hill Panel


Field, David, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


After eight years of mourning her husband, killed when Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland, Victoria Cummock has pushed for change in the way airlines treat crash victims' families. "At the outset of a disaster, the families are rendered helpless fodder and left to endure the tragic, self-serving abuse of intrusive groups like the airlines, lawyers, media and insurance companies," she told Congress yesterday.

The Dec. 21, 1988, crash of Pan Am 103, which killed 270 passengers, crew and people on the ground, "was the beginning of my living nightmare," she said, recounting the hours spent on the telephone with airline officials who provided no information.

Now, in the weeks after 110 persons died in the crash of ValuJet Flight 592 in the Florida Everglades, key members of Congress vowed to make changes for families of crash victims.

"I pledge that this committee will take action this year on these issues," Rep. Bud Shuster, Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told Mrs. Cummock and other relatives and representatives of plane crash victims.

"I believe that airlines usually do the best they can. But that's not enough," he told Mrs. Cummock.

"Our laws need to be changed to protect the families of the victims in these tragedies," the husband of a ValuJet crash victim told the panel.

"While the families were being emotionally raped by the media, members of the legal profession commenced their assault," Richard P. Kessler Jr. told Mr. Shuster and the transportation panel's aviation subcommittee.

Mr. Kessler's wife was 49-year-old Atlanta lawyer Kathleen Parker Kessler, returning home from Miami.

Recalling reporters' actions after the crash, Mr. Kessler said, "If you chase a woman in an airport and hit her with a fist just to get her to cry, you'd be in jail. But you can design a question that stabs her in the heart.

"I saw the press trotting out these young kids trying to get in your face to get a story because the boss wants a story, management wants profits, wants to sell those papers," Mr. Kessler said, his voice cracking with emotion.

But Mr. Kessler, a lawyer who specializes in consumer and credit union law, saved his harshest remarks for his professional brethren.

"I have been emotionally raped by the press. I have been emotionally raped by my brothers and sisters of the bar," he said, recalling sharing his legal work with his wife, a family and estate law specialist. …

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