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Victims' families seek faster, better information

Gore November 20, 1996
Web posted at: 10:40 p.m. EST

From Reporter Kathleen Koch

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- National Transportation Safety Board investigators in Quincy, Illinois, are handling two tough jobs -- investigating the accident and working with victims' families.

That new role was one of several changes proposed by the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security -- led by Vice President Al Gore -- that met Wednesday in Washington to hear from those left behind after previous airplane crashes.

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NTSB Chairman Jim Hall said the officials' jobs are "to ensure that all of the things that would be of interest to the families of the victims... are being coordinated: notification, the handling of the remains and identification."

Responding to frustrated families, one of the first actions of the presidential commission created in the wake of the TWA Flight 800 explosion was to shift the notification role away from the airlines to the NTSB.

In another move Tuesday, the commission signed an agreement requiring airlines to ask passengers boarding international flights for the name and address of next of kin.

"It's a new day. And we're finding that the industry is ready to respond," said Gore. "That's good because they're going to have to respond."

Families appearing Wednesday before the commission insisted more needs to be done.

Richard Kessler, who lost his wife in the ValuJet Flight 592 crash, suggested making improvements in identifying victims after cataclysmic crashes.

"I think we need some legislation to help in these situations so that you can do DNA testing when you don't get bodies back so that maybe you can identify all of the people on the plane," he said.


Others who were traumatized by the return of incorrect personal effects want more staffing in coroners' offices.

"Additional resources would also reduce the possibilities of mistakes such of mislabeling of personal belongings, including documentation of a graphic nature or spare the still grieving family member the trauma of discovering any type of human remains in hastily prepared personal effects," said Cynthia Cox, the mother of a TWA victim.

The White House commission is considering those, as well as measures such as better baggage screening and passenger identification to increase safety and combat potential terrorists' attack.

Those measures will take time. For now, support workers in Quincy say the families there believe NTSB officials and others are doing their best to help them through their nightmare.


"I know that the families understand why they don't have all the answers," said Major Irv Fuqua, commanding officer of the Quincy Salvation Army.

"They do know that people are doing their very best. They're courageous and they're working with us and I think they have a genuine sense that they are being cared for the best they can be."


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