Thank you for your thoughtful, and sorrowful, article on the plain tragedy ending the lives of two daring, and yes, perhaps foolish men (“The Plane That Wasn’t There” Dec. 17). While no one could possibly say with any definitiveness whether a prompt response could have saved those men’s lives, neither can anyone say that it wouldn’t have made a difference.
It seems clear that a mistake was made and that the families are not only grieving, but doing so with a dignity and graciousness I’m not sure I could display in similar circumstances. It also seems clear that our airport has investigated and taken steps to avoid a similar situation in the future. Lessons need to be learned from mistakes made, lessons that could prevent future tragedy. New protocols are in place when a plane goes off radar that may prevent a similar tragedy from occurring again. That is commendable.
Unfortunately, what is not clear is where the human response has been. Why has there been no reaching out to the families? No heartfelt apology? No expressed remorse for the cumulative mistakes that gave rise to this incident? No empathetic regret for the loss of two lives? Not even notification to the families that the NTSB report had been released and published?
Shame on all of the agencies and employees involved — the FAA, the NTSB, Humboldt County Public Works and its employees. Shame on you all for ignoring the responsibility to apologize. An apology can be a healthy acknowledgment that one’s professional conduct (miscommunication, misunderstanding) contributed to this tragedy; in this case not to the cause of the crash, but certainly to the ill-timed rescue effort. An apology can also express a deeply personal empathy for the tragic losses felt by these families.
It sounded to me like the families just want a sense that the agencies involved and the people who work for those agencies actually care. Ignoring them implies the opposite. I feel pretty good giving you all the benefit of the doubt, assuming you are good, caring people stuck in a difficult situation. It is hard to face other people’s losses, especially if you do feel a degree of responsibility and “feel awful about it” as Public Works Director Tom Mattson said. However, waiting longer will just make apologizing more difficult. Please reach out to these families and apologize now. It will not only allow the family to work through this aspect of their grief, it will also, eventually, allow all of you to someday let it go.
Kathleen Marshall, Arcata