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MH370 SEARCH: Expert says third party vital to probes

Publication Date : 23-04-2014


After Gail Dunham's ex-husband died in the United Airlines Flight 585 crash in 1991, it took a decade before she managed to get the truth about the disaster out in the open.

"The government was not forthcoming with the information. They kept saying it was the wind off the mountains. We had to do our own investigation," she said.

The Boeing 737 was carrying 25 passengers and crew on a domestic flight and crashed on its final approach to Colorado Springs airport. There were no survivors.

Dunham said it was only in June 2001 that the authorities provided a revised final report on the crash - it had something to do with the aircraft's rudder control unit.

As a result, rudder systems were ordered replaced on 737s and pilots were trained to deal with planes that could get out of control.

Dunham, 69, from North Carolina, is the executive director of the US-based National Air Disaster Alliance/Foundation. Air crash survivors and disaster victims' family members founded the nonprofit organisation 20 years ago to raise the standard of aviation safety and to support affected families. It has 6,000 members worldwide from 150 aviation disasters.

Dunham's ex-husband Harold Green was the captain of the United Airlines flight. Their daughter was 17 at the time. She knows all too well that support for families takes top priority in the aftermath of such disasters.

"In aviation, the lobbying is always done by the industry; it's always about money, it's always about the costs of safety, the costs of security," she said.

"But when aviation disaster family members come forward, it's not about money. They do two things: They honour their loved ones, and they also want flying to be safer for their friends and their family members. They don't want anyone to go through this."

Dunham was in Beijing for a weeklong visit this month to help the families of the 154 Chinese passengers on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. The Boeing 777, carrying 239 people, vanished on March 8 on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Multinational search efforts are ongoing off Perth, Australia, in the southern Indian Ocean.

Dunham and her colleagues met the Chinese family members on several occasions in Beijing. She collected questions from them about the missing plane which she plans to put to the aircraft giant Boeing at a shareholders' meeting later this month.

"My heart and soul are with these MH370 family members. They are beautiful, they are smart. They are saying and doing the right things," Dunham said.

Expert says third party vital to MH370 probes

"I'm really impressed how respectful the families have been at the briefings on the search, when they're asking their questions. But the industry needs to be respectful in return and share information.

Dunham said her organization will continue to help the families in whatever way it can. That includes trying to get a "third party" such as the US National Transportation Safety Board to assist with investigations.

"Malaysia Airlines has been terrific with providing an excellent translator. But they need to step aside and bring in some independent people to better answer the questions from family members. Family members are very smart. They get intimately involved when there is a disaster, but they want more answers, too."

That means that the plane must be found. And that can be done, Dunham said.

"We'll bring together the best and brightest minds. Hundreds of thousands of people board 777s every day, and they need to know they're getting to their destination. Flying is safe. Millions of people get to where they're going. When there is an aviation disaster, it is something rare, but we have to find out what that is.

"I worked for American Airlines for 27 years and I just believed in aviation. I thought if there had been a plane crash it must have been an act of God. Now I know, every aviation disaster is preventable, and we're going to find out the ways that MH370 could have been preventable."

For the MH370 families, all this is just the beginning of a long process in which they will need all the help and support they can get, Dunham said.

"There is no closure for family members, that's kind of an insurance company word. You know someone can say 'well, you've found the plane so now you're going to have closure'.

"It's wrong, you don't have closure, ever. Not when you've lost a loved one. Life just gets different."


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