SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
Page 1 TOP OF DOCAVIATION DISASTER FAMILY ASSISTANCE ACT OF 1996
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 5, 1996
U.S. House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Aviation,
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 9:35 a.m. in room 2167, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. John J. Duncan, Jr. (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Mr. DUNCAN. The subcommittee will please come to order.
We want to welcome everyone here this morning. This is, of course, a hearing on the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act of 1996.
This legislation was introduced on July 31 by the chairman of the full committee, Mr. Shuster, along with myself, Mr. Oberstar, Mr. Lipinski, Mr. Hutchinson, Mr. Baker, Mr. Franks, Mr. Blute, Mr. Ehlers, Mr. Bachus, Ms. Brown, Mr. Latham, Mrs. Kelly, Mr. LaTourette, Mr. Mascara, Mr. Lazio, and Mr. LaHood.
Page 2 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Nearly every one of these Members serves either on the Aviation Subcommittee or on the full Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, so I think it is fair to say that we have strong support, bipartisan support for this legislation, both on the subcommittee and on the full committee, as well.
The subcommittee held a hearing on June 19 concerning the treatment of families of passengers killed in airline accidents, and certainly interest in this issue has been heightened by the recent TWA tragedy.
From our hearing in June, we worked to develop H.R. 3923, and we did it, I'm pleased to say, on a bipartisan basis. We heard some very terrible and troubling stories, such as mass burials of unidentified body parts without informing family members, in some of these plane crashes in the past. Also, we heard about the throwing away of personal belongings of victims without notifying the families. We heard of constant harassment by lawyers and the media and leaving messages about the death of a family member on an answering machine.
Several recommendations to correct these problems were brought to our attention by witnesses at the subcommittee's hearing in June; for example: establishing a reliable 1800 telephone number assigned exclusively to handle accident-related calls from family members, establishing a family advocate position within the Federal Government, designating a third party, like the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, or some other third party to be responsible for post-trauma communication with families; and requiring that personal items be returned to family members and to any survivors of an accident.
The subcommittee heard from the Department of Transportation, the National Transportation Safety Board, airlines, and family representatives of victims from previous airline accidents. All of the issues I just mentioned and several more were discussed at the hearing.
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
I'm pleased to say that H.R. 3923 addresses many of the problems that arise from these very terrible and tragic aviation accidents.
H.R. 3923 we hope will improve the tremendous coordination that must take place at the accident site. It will help improve communication between the family members and those assisting family members.
We look forward to hearing from our witnesses today in order to determine how we can improve upon or make needed adjustments to H.R. 3923. This is our attempt to do as much as we possibly can in a significant way to make sure that these horrible numbers like 103, 592, 800, and others that were so meaningless before and so horrible afterwards, that they don't just fade into the atmosphere and end up meaning nothing, and we hope that something good can come out of what had been some very terrible and tragic and horrible aviation accidents.
I remain hopeful that we can get this legislation through Congress and to the President for his signature in the very near future.
I now recognize my very distinguished ranking member, Mr. Lipinski, for any comments that he has.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Chairman, I believe that you've covered everything very, very well in your opening statement; consequently, I will simply ask for permission to enter my statement in the record and yield back the balance of my time.
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much.
[Mr. Lipinski's prepared statement follows:]
Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. Clinger?
Mr. CLINGER. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I would just ask unanimous consent that my opening statement might be made a part of the record, and also I want to commend you for holding this very important hearing and indicate that I believe that the legislation that you and Mr. Shuster and others have introduced is a very well-crafted bill, one that deserves and certainly, I think, should receive expeditious consideration by this committee and by the Congress, as a whole.
Hopefully, as you indicated, we can get this bill enacted into law very promptly.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Chairman Clinger.
[Mr. Clinger's prepared statement follows:]
Page 5 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. LaHood?
Mr. LAHOOD. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I, too, want to thank you and commend you for moving this along. I think all of us have been struck by what anguish families have been going through with respect to TWA 800. This is an important piece of legislation. I, like you, hope that we can pass it and have it signed by the president so we can really begin to deal with the problems that exist.
I look forward to this hearing and final passage of the bill.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. LaHood.
Ms. DANNER. No statement, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. All right. Thank you very much. We'll move very quickly into the testimony by our very distinguished witnesses.
Page 6 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The first panel consists of: The Honorable Jim Hall, Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, who is accompanied by Mr. Peter Goelz, director of Office of Government and Public Affairs for the NTSB; Mr. Douglas Smith, the president of the National Air Disaster Alliance; and Mrs. Victoria Cummock, who is president of the Families of Pan-Am 103/Lockerbie; Mr. Bob Monetti, who is a member of the Victims of Pan-Am Flight 103, Inc.; and Mrs. Cynthia E. Cox, the mother of a passenger on the TWA flight 800.
We thank each of you for being with us today, and I suppose that what we'll do is just proceed in the order that the witnesses are listed on the panel, and that means, Chairman Hall, that we will begin with you, please.
TESTIMONY OF JIM HALL, CHAIRMAN, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD, ACCOMPANIED BY PETER GOELZ, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF GOVERNMENT AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS, AND BERNARD LOEB, OFFICE OF AVIATION SAFETY; DOUGLAS SMITH, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL AIR DISASTER ALLIANCE; M. VICTORIA CUMMOCK, PRESIDENT, FAMILIES OF PAN-AM 103/LOCKERBIE; BOB MONETTI, MEMBER, VICTIMS OF PAN-AM FLIGHT 103, INC; AND CYNTHIA E. COX, MOTHER OF A PASSENGER ON TWA FLIGHT 800
Mr. HALL. Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Lipinski, and members of the committee. I'm pleased to be here today to present my views on H.R. 3923, the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act of 1996.
Mr. Chairman, since my testimony was provided yesterday, the Board has adopted the position stated and endorses this testimony.
Page 7 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC First, I would like to give you and the committee an update on the status of the investigation into the tragic loss of TWA flight 800.
As you know, flight 800 disappeared from radar screens at 8:31 p.m. on July 17, 1996. Carrying 230 passengers and crew, the flight was bound for Paris, France. The aircraft suffered a catastrophic explosion or explosions, and evidence indicates that this explosion likely involved the center fuel tank, which was empty at the time of takeoff.
Because of immediate and intense concern that this tragedy could have been an act of terror, the NTSB, while leading the investigation, has been working closely with the FBI and other Federal agencies in trying to uncover exactly what happened to flight 800.
The tragedy occurred at dusk in clear weather, and wreckage fell in an area approximately six to nine miles off East Moriches, Long Island. Coast Guard search and rescue vessels and aircraft were on the scene within minutes. They were assisted by numerous private vessels, but, unfortunately, there were no survivors.
The wreckage sank to the ocean bottom at approximately 120 feet, and it was spread out over 5 1/2 square miles. The NTSB called in the United States Navy supervisor of salvage to coordinate the recovery efforts.
If I could make a personal statement, Mr. Chairman, the officers and crew of the Navy ships, ''U.S.S. Grasp,'' ''U.S.S. Grapple,'' ''Oak Hill,'' and the ''Pirouette'' have done an extraordinary job under the most difficult conditions. Operating on a 24-hour-a-day basis, they have worked in an extremely dangerous environment, and from the very beginning their top priority has been the recovery of victims.
Page 8 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
The divers want nothing more than to recover every victim, and to date 211 have been recovered. This is an extraordinary accomplishment, under the circumstances, and, of course, we pray that more victims will be recovered.
To date, the investigative team has been unable to determine what was the likely cause of this accident. Although there have been tantalizing pieces of evidence, there has been no so-called ''smoking gun.'' Our investigation is ongoing, and with about 75 percent of the plane recovered, we expect our efforts to continue in the coming weeks until we have brought to the surface and examined every possible piece of wreckage.
Let me now address the issue at hand and relate the bill to the efforts made on behalf of the family members of flight 800.
First, Mr. Chairman, I personally support this bill, not because it gives the NTSB more responsibilitywe are a small agency with a targeted missionbut because it is the right thing to do. Something needs to be done to better coordinate services for family members of victims of air disasters.
Let me briefly describe some of the challenges we faced in New York.
The NTSB Go-Team arrived on scene Thursday, July 18, 1996, at 6:15 a.m. Our regional aviation director from Parsippany, New Jersey, had been on Long Island since 10:45 p.m. the previous evening. He had been doing ground work for the arrival of our Go-Team and had been performing preliminary investigative activities.
Page 9 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Early Thursday evening the NTSB's director of government and public affairs, Mr. Peter Goelz, who is with me today, arrived at the Ramada Hotel at Kennedy International Airport, met with local officials, and briefed the approximately 400 family members who had already gathered at the hotel on the status of the investigation.
It was clear at this session, as it was clear at the ValuJet tragedy, that at times like this there are only two agencies that family members really want to hear fromthe NTSB and the medical examiner's office.
As the sole agency responsible for the investigation, family members directly want to hear from us, and, frankly, it is our responsibility to give them accurate and timely information.
The tragedy on Long Island presented us with unprecedented logistical challenges, and the logistics of the accident made even very basic communications difficult. Couple with this the very aggressive media market in New York City, the numerous governmental jurisdictions involved, and the magnitude and multi-national aspects of the tragedy. There is little wonder that some of the family members felt frustrated.
When President Clinton visited the family members on July 25, 1996, he named the NTSB as the sole agency authorized to speak to family members, and he gave the NTSB much-needed support from FEMA to get the mission accomplished. I want to thank the President and FEMA Director James Lee Witt for their concern and prompt action.
Page 10 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC With the additional support and resources, the NTSB was able to establish twice-a-day group briefings that were simultaneously translated into both French and Italian. The briefings and extensive one-on-one meetings went on until Sat, August 3, 1996, when fewer than 15 families were left at the Ramada Hotel.
At that time, under the advice of Red Cross and State mental health professionals, the family members remaining were encouraged to return home to a more-supportive environment. A follow-up network, including an 800 number, was put in place.
The NTSB continues to field probably a dozen phone calls a day from family members of TWA flight 800, and we distribute periodic updates via fax to family members, as well as to the French and Italian Embassies, and just recently I wrote all of the next-of-kin updating them on our efforts.
In addition, Mr. Chairman, I would like to commend this committee and its staff for the support that it extended to the NTSB and for your willingness and interest to personally go up to the hangar site in Moriches and visit the accident site with us.
Because of your interest and the interest of this committee, Mr. Chairman, I believe that this bill is addressing the fundamental need that exists. When an airplane goes down with passenger fatalities, someone needs to be in charge of seeing that family members are treated decently and that they receive information and services in a timely manner. They need to be treated just as any of us would want to be treated under similar circumstances.
Historically, this role has been filled by airlines involved in the accident. As we have seen and this committee has heard, the airlines have been unable or unwilling to address family concerns in a manner that is satisfactory to all involved.
Page 11 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Since the NTSB is the sole agency in charge of the investigation and for determining the probable cause of accidents, it stands to reason that family members would want to hear from us.
As chairman of the NTSB, I'm prepared to direct staff to take the lead in seeing that the appropriate services and information are delivered to family members.
I say this, in part, because I believe the investigative authority of my agency should not be diluted in any way, and by housing this responsibility at the NTSB you will ensure a coordinated, unified approach. But if given this new responsibility, the NTSB will need the resources to get the job done. I look forward to working with you to see that the appropriate authority and resources go along with the responsibility.
However, I also believe, Mr. Chairman, that the individual carriers have a basic and fundamental responsibility to the family members of its passengers. These responsibilities must be met by the airlines, regardless of the potential of future liability. Too often in the past, acts of compassion, decency, and kindness performed by airline care teams have been undone by the thoughtless decisions of underwriters and lawyers.
If tasked by Congress with this new responsibility, I will meet with the part 121 and 135 carriers to review the accident response plans to ensure that their plans meet the family needs and not simply the needs of the insurance underwriters.
Mr. Chairman, I also believe that there are resources already existing in the Federal sector that could be mobilized in support of this new mission for the NTSB, but the NTSB will need the authority to task these agencies to assist us.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Finally, Mr. Chairman, let me thank you for holding this second hearing, and the members of the subcommittee for committing to this plan action. The NTSB did not seek this new authority, but, if given it, will act on behalf of the families in the thorough and responsible manner that has characterized our agency in its 30-year history.
Finally, again, Mr. Chairman, let me mention that an executive order has been prepared by the President that will complement this bill.
That completes my statement, and as soon as the panel is complete I will be glad to respond to any questions.
Mr. DUNCAN. Well, thank you very much, Chairman Hall and Mr. Goelz, for being here. I certainly appreciate the work that you all are doing in these very difficult, almost impossible situations.
The next witness is Mr. Douglas Smith, president of the National Air Disaster Alliance.
Mr. SMITH. Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, thank you for this opportunity to again address a critical national problem.
When we presented testimony on June 19 on the treatment of survivors and families of victims of air disaster, this committee listened, heard the cry from the ground, and committed to swift action.
Page 13 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Unfortunately, the loss of 230 lives on July 17 in the TWA 800 disaster and the resulting poor treatment of the families again underscored for all the world to see the need for this legislation.
It is time to end this national embarrassment that is broadcast over worldwide TV coverage and prevent the second tragedy. Never again should families wait so long for confirmation on the loss of and the identification of loved ones.
Specifically, in Pennsylvania people all too well know the additional pain of the second tragedy, for instance, going back to U.S. Air 427 and now TWA 800, as well as people in other areas of the country.
You and this committee held to your word and did respond. We trust that the House and the Senate of this 104th Congress will give bipartisan support in this session and present to the President a bill to support the families before another tragedy occurs. It is time to move.
Surely there is no one that does not understand these issues and the compelling need, but in case the airline industry takes the position that we should not act in haste or in the height of emotion and want to study the problem, let me remind us all that we have asked over a year ago for a response from them. We are not acting out of emotion, but from reasoned response to years of demonstrated failure. We have been too patient and have already counted to 10.
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The committee and staff have heard the petitions of the people and responded well, as demonstrated by the thoroughness of the legislation.
We have reviewed the copy of the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act of 1996. Element by element has been compared to the proposal, issues, and recommendations presented in our testimony of June 19. In every instance, the need for change has been answered.
Now the TWA 800 experience demonstrates the need for direction and coordination of the medical examiner/coroner activities. This needs to be added to the legislation.
In addition, the use of information such as medical records for use by the medical examiner and coroner for identification should not be given to the air carriers' insurance company to be used against the families in further litigation.
There are areas of the legislation in the wording that we seek clarification and support, and I'd ask you, in reference, to look at a few sections. One is on page one in the title. We ask that the word ''survivors'' be added so that the phrase reads, ''To take action to address the needs of survivors and families of passengers.'' In our original testimony we included the needs of survivors.
Fortunately, in some of the disasters there were survivors, and we won't go back into prior testimony talking about those issues, but a statement needs to be added to this legislation so that those who are fortunate enough to survive do not receive the treatment that they received in some of these past accidents. If anybody wants details, I'd be glad to give that testimony.
Page 15 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
There are other sections for which we have made suggestions. We ask specifically that the page four, line four, of the draft bill add the phrase, ''along with burial services of unidentified remains, as required.''
This has been a very critical issue in three of the disasters, and it needs to be addressed without question.
In section four, the establishment of a task force, we request that the National Air Disaster Alliance, the organization that originally identified the second tragedy and the family advocate concept, and whose efforts presented the proposal and recommendations, be included by name on page nine, line 22, along with the other concerned families.
We, as an alliance, stand ready to serve on this task force, but trust that this committee not just set out a specific mission, but also a desired time frame for completion, along with a request for a report back to this committee.
This completes our requested changes.
We'd like for you to also know that the National Air Disaster Alliance will hold its annual meeting tomorrow and Saturday in Pittsburgh, and we will be there in conjunction and to support the second annual memorial service of the USAir 474 disaster. The Alliance will vote on a resolution to unanimously support this legislation with these critical changes.
Page 16 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Our prayer is that we will never have to evoke or utilize any element of this proposed legislation. Instead, we, as a Nation, should raise the standard of safety, security, and survivability and do all in its means to secure that higher standard. It is time for action, not talk.
Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, thank you for your service to the Nation's flying public, service to the survivors, and service to all the families that have lost loved ones.
Thank you gentlemen and ladies.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Smith.
The next witness is Mrs. Victoria Cummock, president of the Families of Pan-Am 103/Lockerbie.
Mrs. CUMMOCK. Mr. Chairman, it's with great pleasure that I appear before you and your fellow colleagues today.
On behalf of the Families of Pan-Am 103/Lockerbie and myself, I applaud the introduction of H.R. 3923, Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act of 1996.
This legislation embodies what air disaster victims' families have cried out for time and time again for years. It provides families of air disaster victims the same quality of care currently given to all Americans during all types of disasters, whether natural or man-made.
Page 17 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
This legislation expands the role of the NTSB by placing the NTSB in the lead coordinating role to manage all aspects of air disaster response and victims' family care.
H.R. 3923 enables the NTSB to designate an independent, nonprofit disaster organization, like the Red Cross, that has certified grief counselors and disaster professionals to care for the families. This will ensure human and uniform treatment by providing a professional disaster response, thus avoiding either conflict of interest or an abusive authority by a airlines.
Seven years ago I sat before this committee testifying, along with many of the other Pan-Am 103 families, about the blatant and inhumane treatment by Pan-Am of the victims' next-of-kin. You heard horror story after horror story about the lack of airline coordination in all phases of crisis management, from the initial notification of the air disaster, during the seemingly endless victim recovery process, and finally through the identification process and the return of the remains and personal effects.
Some Pan-Am families were never notified, while others had had messages left by Pan-Am on answering machines telling them that their child was dead. Mutilated bodies of the passengers were shipped home like parcels, without notice and without special handling. Some families got the wrong bodies and didn't know where to return the wrong one and where their family members' bodies were.
Via the media, the world had first-hand knowledge of all the details of our families' death before we did. For most of us, it was via the media that we found out, along with the rest of the world, as to where and when our families' mutilated bodies were found or identified.
Page 18 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
They families of the victims did not receive any consideration, and the victims were not treated with any dignity or respect.
In addition, there were no death certificates for months, leaving some widows evicted on the street because probate could not even begin.
At every junction we were brought to our knees and left to care for ourselves.
Seven weeks ago, TWA 800 exploded en route from New York to France. Tragically, all 230 passengers were killed. Tragically once again, the nightmare began for these families. Sadly, the horror stories about TWA's mismanagement began as soon as the plane plunged into the Atlantic Ocean. Families were kept completely in the dark. Many called me in Miami for help.
For more than 24 hours, most tried desperately to get confirmation whether their loved one's name even appeared on a flight manifest or not.
As with previous disasters, the spill or the raw manifest was incomplete, requiring TWA to scramble for hours to get confirmation.
Even the State Department at 4:00 a.m., over 4 hours after the explosion had occurred, had to get a court order to obtain the manifest.
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Hence, today, a new group of families, the TWA families, join us. Families are here from all other air disastersthe ValuJet 592 families, USAir 427, United 232, Northwest 255, American Eagle KL007, and so forth. You will hear some of their horror stories and their cries for change.
Needless to say, the importance of H.R. 3923 is paramount and its time is now.
The need for industry-wide reform is long overdue. There is no other industry in this Nation where the victims and their families are left solely in the hands of the company that just killed them.
On June 19, you all heard from Richard Kessler, after the outset of the ValuJet 592 disaster that killed 110 people, including his wife, Kathleen. These families, like all of us before them, were rendered helpless fodder and left to endure the tragic, self-serving abuse of intrusive groups like the airlines, like the lawyers, and the media or insurance companies.
The next-of-kin, who were stunned and dazed and in disbelief, turned to the authorities for information, only to find out that their main conduit for information was the airline that had just killed their loved ones.
Luckily, the vast degree of mistreatment didn't happen to the families of ValuJet because of the presence of the NTSB and in concert with some of the efforts of victims' advocates, like myself.
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Families who attended the Miami briefings did receive first-hand, official information from all the local authorities and accurate answers to their questions. However, once they left Miami the flow of information ended.
For the families who could not come to Miami, there was never an attempt to relay any of the information, so for them the shock, isolation, and disbelief continued.
This is much of the same for the TWA 800 families, where they are right now, since there is still no lead agency to update them on the developments of the investigation and the status of the disaster.
As I've often said, Mr. Chairman, planes will go down at different times for different reasons. Once a plane has crashed, we cannot change that, but this legislation will change the way America takes care of the bereaved families of the passengers. It will help them to maintain their dignity through their darkest hours.
Let us all move forward quickly to enact H.R. 3923. Let us not wait for another air disaster, for another group of victims' families to come here and cry out, before we implement this change.
The Families of Pan-Am 103/Lockerbie stand ready to help move this legislation through both houses and help to push this into the White House for the President's signature.
Page 21 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC This all rests with each and every one of you that sit on this committee, and I pray that you don't rest until you see its enactment. It's the right thing to do for the flying public, and it's the right thing to do for the American people.
Thank you for your consideration.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mrs. Cummock.
Next we'll hear from another member of your organizationexcuse me. We'll hear from Mr. Bob Monetti, who is with the Victims of Pan-Am Flight 103.
Please proceed, Mr. Monetti.
Mr. MONETTI. Mr. Chairman, good morning.
George Williams, the president of our organization, is apparently still at the Vice President's Commission meeting and isn't here, so I'm taking his place, and I offer his testimony as he wrote it to be put right into the record, rather than having to read it again for you. I just wanted to highlight a few of the things that George wrote.
I just wanted to point out that it has been 8 years since the bombing of Pan-Am 103, and it has been 5 years since the criminal indictment of the two Libyans who bombed the plane. Our hope is that if this Government ever took terrorism seriously and dealt with the terrorists, maybe we wouldn't get together quite so often to talk about disasters.
Page 22 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Victims of Pan-Am 103 and other relatives of people from the flight Pan-Am 103 worked very closely with the State Department to help develop a training film and a training program for Foreign Service employees. We cooperated in that difficult undertaking in hopes of avoiding future problems of a similar nature of the things that we went through.
This information exists. It probably should be shared domestically. Supposedly, the State Department deals with international disasters. I say ''supposedly'' only because TWA 800 was an international disaster. It happened near New York, but it was on the way to Paris, and the State Department should have jumped in. They have a system. They have a switchboard. They have everything in place to be able to deal with this, and yet we're talking about what the airline did, we're talking about what the governor of New York did, what the mayor of New York did, and nobody talks about what the State Department did.
We passed the Aviation Security Improvement Act in 1990 detailing exactly how the State Department should deal with relatives of international disasters.
My problem is that you wrote a really good bill here, and it makes a lot of sense, but you can't rest just by writing it, because you wrote a really good bill in 1990 telling the State Department exactly how to deal with disasters and they didn't do a damn thing in New York. So just writing the bill isn't enough. You actually have to remind them to do the work.
There are an awful lot of bills on the record that no one even knows exist. Don't let this become one of those.
Page 23 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. DUNCAN. Well, thank you very much, Mr. Monetti.
Next we'll hear from Ms. Cynthia E. Cox, the mother of a passenger on TWA flight 800.
Ms. COX. Thank you.
I would like to voice my support for the pending legislation, H.R. 3923, the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act of 1996, provided that toll-free numbers set up for family members in need of information are provided in sufficient quantity, with an equally adequate number of operators trained for disaster and post-trauma communication.
Separate lines should be established for the media and non-family.
A study should be conducted into the feasibility of making it illegal for the media to call the family lines.
Expedient notification to victims' families should be imperative. Notification should take place as soon as the individual passenger has been verified. Families should not have to wait for the entire manifest to be verified.
A task force should be developed to study the need for national catastrophic crisis management for medical examiners, inclusive of a plan for deployment of additional qualified personnel, equipment, and supplies in an expeditious fashion after a catastrophic event.
Page 24 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Standardized questionnaires should be developed and maintained by all medical examiners' offices to facilitate prompt and accurate identification of victims.
The proper handling and disposition of personal effects should include proper identification of items, decontamination of items, a non-graphic description of the item's content or condition prior to release.
Families should be notified about the recovery of a loved one's belongings, even if it must be held as evidence. Unidentified items should be photographed and catalogued for release to families for identification purposes.
There should be a study of what can be done to effectively prevent the invasion of the families' privacy by the media.
Family advocates provided should be from a nonprofit organization. They should have appropriate training and experience in disasters and post-trauma communication.
These recommendations are based on our experiences during the traumatic loss of our 16-year-old daughter, Monica, who, along with 15 other Montoursville High School students, lost her life on TWA flight 800.
Shortly after 10 p.m. on the evening of July 17, my father called my home and informed me of the fate of flight 800. He had learned the information from CNN.
Page 25 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC With the consistent use of the redial button on the phone, it took over 4 hours to finally get through on the toll-free number set up, only to be placed on hold for over 10 minutes.
When we finally had a human voice on the other end of the line, we were told to leave our name and number; they would get back to us. Fourteen hours later, my husband and I left for New York. We still had no call from TWA.
We finally received confirmation after our arrival in New York at 8:30 p.m. on the 18th. Notification should have been much quicker, since it has been law since 1990 to obtain a contact name and phone number for passengers traveling abroad.
Questionnaires to obtain information about the victims for identification purposes and addresses for forwarding medical records were not received by families until July 19.
The media's intrusiveness at Monica's funeral was overwhelming. They appeared in droves. Some posed as mourners and came into her service, then writing news stories quoting her service. There were front-page pictures of my husband, our only surviving child, a 5-year-old, and myself leaving the church, published without permission.
Monica's cherry-stained wooden coffin being taken in or out of the church has appeared on every news broadcast, in magazines, and on the internet.
When we picked up Monica's personal effects, we had to open all of the car windows on the way home. The smell of aviation fuel was overpowering. You cannot imagine the horror of discovering notes from the medical examiner's office, which were included.
Page 26 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
After reading the notes, we needed to view her personal effects to confirm that we had, indeed, received our child.
In the first bag we found two items. They did belong to our daughter. We were horrified when we opened the second bag. This contained clothing that did not belong to our daughter, as well as a piece of human flesh.
Our concerns over airline personnel being used as family advocates stems from our concern for the safety of other individuals flying. Airline personnel dealing with disasters and its aftermath suffer from their own form of trauma, and they may not be able to perform at their maximum job effectiveness, thus possibly creating additional and unnecessary risks for others.
The 16 students from Montoursville aboard TWA flight 800 were classic over-achievers, the cream of the crop, talented in many diverse ways. The world will be a lesser place without them.
I fervently hope that in their honor necessary improvements are made in aviation safety and family assistance in the event of a disaster.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Ms. Cox.
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Chairman Hall, I understand that TWA has stated that one of the reasons that it took so long for them to notify families is that the NTSB held up the notification process. Is that correct in any way?
Mr. HALL. No, Mr. Chairman. That is entirely incorrect, and I brought here a statement from one of our investigators, who was our first investigator on the scene, but I would like to ask Mr. Peter Goelz, who was on the scene, to respond to that concern.
Mr. GOELZ. Mr. Chairman, I arrived at the East Moriches staging area at approximately 6:15 on Thursday morning. Prior to that, I had been at the NTSB headquarters from approximately 9:30 until we left from hangar six at 5:30, and fielded a number of calls throughout the night. There were four of us on duty through the night.
About 8:00 in the morning I contacted the TWA station manager for Kennedy Airport, who was apparently the person in charge for TWA at East Moriches and asked him about the manifest, because there were increasing concerns that no official manifest had been released.
He stated to me that he had been in contact with the NTSB in Washington and that the NTSB in Washington had asked him to hold the manifest.
Since I was the person answering the phones in Washington and I was there, I asked him who he spoke to, and he could not give me a name, and I confronted him with the fact that I was the person on duty, that I had answered all of the calls coming into Washington, and I had never spoken to him or to anyone else from TWA on the manifest.
Page 28 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC He then switched his story and said, ''Well, it was somebody. I spoke to somebody.'' And I said, ''Well, whatever the case is, the manifest should be released immediately, and you have an obligation to do that.''
And we had kind of a heated conversation. He got up and left.
Subsequently, they apparently identified Mr. Dennis Jones, our regional director, who had been at the site, as the person who told them that the manifest should not be released.
Mr. Jones, again, vigorously denies that, stating that TWA was being pressured heavily by the medical examiner's office and by the Suffolk County Police for a manifest, and they simply had been unable to get an accurate list together, in part apparently because of the large number of TWA employees who were flying on the flight. There were over 50 that were on it.
We have Mr. Jones' statement to submit to you.
I believe this is simply a problem that TWA had a real hard time getting an accurate manifest together, and that, in the early stages of the accident, everybody was under a lot of pressure, and they were simply ducking the responsibility.
Mr. DUNCAN. All right.
Mr. HALL. We'd like to submit, if we could, Mr. Jones' statement for the record, Mr. Chairman.
Page 29 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. DUNCAN. All right. That statement can be placed in the record.
[Mr. Jones' statement follows:]
Mr. DUNCAN. Chairman Hall, we have a witness on the next panel from one of the airlines who apparently will testify that he feels this legislation might create another unnecessary layer of bureaucracy and could actually interfere with families receiving the services or the information that they need.
Do you see that possibility, or do you share that concern in any way?
Mr. HALL. I have, of course, not reviewed the testimony or heard of the individuals' concerns. Let me say that I think the current legislation addresses the concerns of the families and directs the NTSB to utilize existing resources to accomplish the mission.
As was pointed out in one of the testimonies up here, State Department has resources that were not made available in a timely fashion on TWA flight 800. There are plenty of resources in the Federal Government to address these concerns. The coordination and direction of those resources and the cooperation of the airlines in accomplishing the mission outlined in the bill is what we need to get the job done.
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. DUNCAN. And you said in your testimony that the resources are available in the Federal Government, but that you just need the authority to task these agencies. Do you
Mr. HALL. Well, we will probably need, because we don't have any personnel or resources for this mission within the NTSB, period, Mr. Chairman, for this purposeit's not presently part of our missionwe would need additional resources. The first thing that we would do would be to try to inventory and identify existing Federal resources that could be applied to this task before we attempted to request additional resources.
Mr. DUNCAN. Do you think that the bill, as it presently stands, gives you the authority that you would need, or do you see some additional authority that possibly we should consider adding to the bill in a technical correction of some sort?
Mr. HALL. I think you have heard some good suggestions this morning from Mr. Smith, and we would like to work with staff, but we feel that the bill basically accomplishes the mission.
I think this second hearing is going to be helpful to get additional suggestions. As was pointed out again earlier in the testimony, and I believe you will hear a representative from the airlines this morning who I met with yesterday afternoon who understands that this problem needs to be addressed by the airlines.
The airlines, themselves, need to come forward and say, ''We recognize these problems,'' and work with the NTSB, or whoever the agency is, in a cooperative fashion to meet these very legitimate concerns.
Page 31 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. DUNCAN. All right. I'll have some additional questions later.
Mr. Lipinski has asked that I go to Ms. Danner for questions at this point.
Ms. DANNER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Why do you think, Chairman Hall, that the airlines don't release the manifests in a more timely fashion?
Mr. HALL. I think it is their concern in releasing incorrect information, and wanting to confirm exactly who is on the airplane before they release the information.
There are certain ways, of course, that that information could be confirmed. With TWA flight 800, of course, everyone had to be flying on a valid passport. But I believe that is the gist of their concern.
Ms. DANNER. So flying with a passport, that list of individuals who were flying on a passport would be available not only through TWA. Would the State Department have that, as well? I'm seeing one of the other panelists nodding his head yes that they would have. So there were two lists to check againstthe manifest, as well as the
Page 32 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. HALL. I don't know that the State Department would have that information on a timely fashion.
Ms. CUMMOCK. Ms. Danner, if I may
Ms. DANNER. I see Mr. Monetti was shaking his head. I believe he has some information along that line.
Mr. MONETTI. They have the capability to have it. They're working on the machine-readable passports, which are some in and some out.
The problem with the manifest is that there is a liability thing that the airlines don't want to issue anything because of liability, and the Government insists on getting it and will not indemnify the airline against liability in case they have a name of somebody who really isn't on the plane.
I think part of what you might want to consider covering in this is that, somewhere along the line, if we give a Government agency responsibility for getting this information out quickly, they need to be able to assure the airline that they, and not the airline, will be responsible for mistakes.
Ms. DANNER. It's interesting you say that, because a note I had written to give to my staff was, ''We possibly need an amendment stating, 'No carrier will be held liable for releasing names of passengers if such list should prove to be inaccurate.'''
Page 33 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
I think that perhaps is one of the problems that we're encountering, and that is fear of liability on the part of the carrier if they release an inaccurate list of names, so I think that that's something that we probably need to address within this legislation.
Ms. CUMMOCK. If I may, in terms of what is required on an international flight, the 1990 Aviation Security Improvement Act required that the airlines gather full passenger names.
Right now, when TWA pushed the spill list, they, for example, would have V. Cummock, 3A. They did not know if V. Cummock was Victor or Victoria, if I was 43 years old or 10 years old, whether I was Scottish, or whatever.
If the airlines don't know who is on board and they don't input the information that they are requested and mandated to get at the check-in timethey check your passport. They check all this information. But if they don't input it into the computer, the moment that a plane goes down they can't notify. And, because of liability, they won't notify.
So clearly to pass this responsibility to some other agency or to the Red Cross or to the NTSB, if you put garbage into a computer and push the button, garbage is going to come out, and their hands are going to be tied in the process, too.
Fortunately, I was told that the flight manifest rulemaking process, the requirement is going to be announced this afternoon that will require the airlines to actually collect this information, but I think the problem on notification is that they don't knowthey don't have the information when they push the button.
Page 34 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
In terms of talking about adding another layer of bureaucracy to the disaster response and why bring in the NTSB, you have to realize that the types of services that the airlines provide are very, very different. In the TWA disaster, I spent the better part of a month with the families, with the NTSB, at the Ramada Inn until the operation closed down.
TWA was saying that they had their disaster counselors there. A counselor is a trained mental health professional. A grief counselor is licensed and certified. They had trained volunteers, disaster volunteers, but the type of service that a volunteer can give, that I can giveI'm a family member and a victims' advocate. I can empathize and I can sympathize. I can't counsel because I'm not trained to do that. The type of services that would be given to these families are very different.
NTSB's or the medical examiner's information that they give is different than TWA. For instance, if, in the ValuJet disaster, a family member wanted to know whether there was smoke in the cabin, ''I read it in the paper,'' you shouldn't get an airline employee saying, ''Well, I think there was,'' or me or anybody else, for that matter. That needs to come from the NTSB.
So it's the type of service and the training that is the type of response that we need to give to people, and that's what this legislation provides. It gives the NTSB, who is on-site, the authority to pull in the people and to coordinate the services.
In the TWA disaster there were 29 different agencies that had jurisdiction to respond. They were local, they were State, and they were Federal. We had everybody from the Port Authority, the Port Authority Police, the Mayor's Office, the Governor's Office. Everybody wanted to respond. There was no one lead agency, so everybody was trying, in their own little way, to help these families. And God bless them.
Page 35 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
When you didn't have one lead agency to say, ''Okay, if we need buses we're going to call the Port Authority, but thanks, guys, you don't need to be here all the time.''
It is such an intrusive environment for the families.
So this will allow that one lead group is established that has the jurisdiction and the authority. The NTSB nor the Red Cross, in the TWA 800 case, could say to the other groups that were other agencies, ''No, we don't need this service right now,'' or to also then go in to the medical examiner and say, ''You need more help. Accept the other help.''
This will allow them to do that, and that's the difference.
Ms. DANNER. You know, Mr. Chairman, the more I heard of this testimony and reckoning that I heard the name mentioned this morning again, I'm beginning to think FEMA is the best agency to look into this. It seems to me as though James Lee Witt has done an extraordinary job of dealing with emergency management, and I'm beginning to think that perhaps his agency is one we should consider.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. All right. Thank you very much, Ms. Danner.
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. LAHOOD. Mr. Hall, I heard you say in your testimony that the President was going to sign an executive order. Can you explain what that is and why we need an executive order to go along with this legislation?
Mr. HALL. I believe that the interest in the executive order, Congressman, was strictly to be an interim measure until this legislation is passed, so that if anything were to occur today or tomorrow or until this bill becomes law, that there is in place a system to address these concerns.
Mr. LAHOOD. Do you know what the executive order does? I mean, is it modeled after our legislation so that he designates some one agency to be the lead agency, or can you tell us what his executive order really does?
Mr. HALL. My belief is that it complements this legislation, and I would be glad to review some of the details on the executive order.
Mr. Goelz has been working with the White House on this, so let me
Mr. GOELZ. We received a draft of the proposed executive order yesterday, and as the chairman indicated, it really is a supplemental effort to fill a need in the interim, should a disaster occur prior to the passage of this bill.
It does ask the NTSB to take the lead in the coordination of services to families, and directs the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Justice, State, Transportation, and FEMA to recognize the NTSB as the coordinator of services, and within 15 days identify a lead person in each agency to work with us, and within 30 days each of these agencies are requested to enter into a memorandum of understanding specifying services that they will provide at the NTSB's request should there be an air disaster.
Page 37 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. LAHOOD. So the NTSB would become the lead agency under that executive order
Mr. GOELZ. Yes.
Mr. LAHOOD. and then they would utilize resources from all other agencies?
Mr. GOELZ. It instructs the other Federal agencies to enter into memorandums of understandings with us in anticipation of providing services should an air disaster occur, and we think that that is entirely complementary with the efforts of this bill.
Mr. LAHOOD. Mr. Hall, do you have any notion of when some more-definitive information will be released about TWA 800 and what happened? Do you have any idea when that
Mr. HALL. Well, the vice chairman is going to be holding a press conference this afternoon, and we will be holding weekly press conferences. But, Congressman if at any point in time we come across information that we think will provide a direction to this investigation, that would be made public.
We have some 70 percent of the aircraft that has been recovered. We had to suspend our operations because of the hurricane. I don't know if this new hurricane is going to cause us difficulty.
Page 38 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
But I feel confident that if we can get the balance of the wreckage into the hangar, that our experts will be able to make a determination as to what caused this accident or this criminal act.
But at this point in time, as I said in my testimony, there have been some tantalizing things and a number of theories that are continually circulated in the press, but I assure you that the factual information and what we know will be released through our spokesperson, Mr. Francis.
Mr. LAHOOD. Is it going to require, really, to get the other 30 percent of the plane recovered in order for you to really make a judgment on this?
Mr. HALL. I would hope, sir, that we would not have to recover all of the plane in order to make a determination, but we are committed, if that's what we have to do, to do that.
I would have hoped that the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder would provide us the necessary information. But at this point in time we have got to get that part of the wreckage that is going to tell the story, and we have yet to recover it.
Mr. LAHOOD. Is the book closed on ValuJet, from your point of view, in terms of what happened and what created that accident, cause and so forth?
Mr. HALL. As you know, we have made some recommendations already in regard to oxygen generators. The way our investigations are structured, our investigative team drafts a report and presents it to the Board, and until the Board votes on a probable cause, our investigation is not concluded.
Page 39 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
We do plan to have a 4-day hearing the third week of November on this particular accident.
But do we have a strong opinion on what caused the accident? Yes. That was the handling of the oxygen generators.
Mr. LAHOOD. Finally, I would say, Ms. Cox, I was so struck byI read word-for-word your testimony, and your testimony is just extraordinary, and I'm sure it must have been very, very difficult to put that together.
Your suggestions and recommendations are ones that I think some of us, as politicians, wish we could carry out, particularly as they relate to the media. The way that you were treated by the media and the way that other victims have been treated and other families by the media is outrageous. I wish there was something that we could do. I doubt if there is.
I congratulate you for having the emotional stamina to put together your testimony.
Ms. COX. Thank you, sir. I had the motivation of a lot families in Montoursville. They have suffered greatly, just as many of the other victims have. And then we had to sit and watch funeral after funeral. It was difficult enough to participate and attend them. It hasn't even been a week since our last funeral.
It was very difficult to have to watch our children go back to school and be besieged by media on their first day back after such a tragedy.
Page 40 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
These are the types of things that are motivating me. I know my daughter would have been here, if she had not been on board, voicing her support after having seen what has happened and what people have to go through.
So I am doing this in her spirit and the spirit of the kids who were lost. They were all very unique. They were the cream of the crop, the over-achievers. I feel that the parents there thought we owed this to them, at least to their memory.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. LaHood.
We'll go next to Mr. Oberstar. Mr. Lipinski has requested, I think, that he go last, Mr. Oberstar.
Mr. OBERSTAR. I appreciate the gentleman's courtesy.
Mr. Chairman, I very much appreciate your and Chairman Shuster's concurrence in holding this hearing on the introduced bill. It's very important that we have witness input on the specifics of the legislation.
To the families of the victims, my heart and spirit go out to you and with you, particularly, Ms. Cox, you and the other family members whose children were on their way to France.
I was a French major in college. I studied in Europe, myself. I got a master's degree at the College of Europe in Belgium and maintained my French fluency over the years. One of my dreams as a student was to be able to study in France. I didn't quite get there, for very different reasons. I can sense, I can feel the anticipation and the excitement of those students as they were on their way, and the anticipation of being part of a long-established and rich culture and bringing something back with thema very wonderful lifetime experienceand how painful it is that all of those dreams were so brutally extinguished out. I know how difficult it is for you to be here to speak.
Page 41 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. Monetti and Victoria Cummock, to you, your continuing campaignyou've never rested from the aftermath of the tragedy of Pan-Am 103. You've continued to give of yourselves so that the lives of others may be better, so that our Government will do what it committed to do. Thank you for your inspiration and for your continued surveillance and prodding.
I took the occasion, as Chairman Duncan did on a different occasion, to go to East Moriches with Chairman Hall to view the investigative effort, the salvage effort. I must say I have enormous respect for NTSB investigators on the scene. The combined effort of Federalprincipally the Federal participants in the rescue scene, but also the State and local support effort has been so evident. Those Navy divers, who literally each time they don the suit are risking their lives to bring back the remnants of TWA 800 and the remains of the victims, they have my undying respect and admiration. They are just incredible.
When I finished watching the whole of a team diving effort, Mr. Chairman, I said to the team captain, ''It makes everything else we do seem insignificant to see the professionalism, the dedication, the sure knowledge that at any moment a big piece of metal could rip through their suit.'' In fact, one did and it cut through tendon to bone. They are heroic people making that effort.
But I have to think that there is some element of uncertainty about leadership in this. This is an unusual kind of tragedy, though not unprecedented, because Pan-Am 103 was also treated by the Scottish police and Scotland Yard as a criminal act, and the site was treated as a crime scene, so it's not an entirely new situation.
Page 42 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
But I couldn't help thinking that we need to maybe clarify the authority of the NTSB to be the lead agency in accident investigation, regardless of what the incident may seem to be.
I don't mean to disparage in any way the role of the FBI or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms or the local police, but we can't have a many-headed operation. It has to be one clear authority.
I won't ask you to respond at this time, but I think we need to pursue a way of clarifying the very definitive responsibility of the NTSB to take charge, to have your own means of getting to a scene as quickly as possible.
I know that your team could not get up there. They were ready. They were at the airport. They didn't have an aircraft available to take them up there. And the FBI had more people in their New York office than the NTSB has in its entire agency to take charge of a scene.
I certainly want and I think the families want to have the NTSB doing thebetween those two agencies, doing the briefings, just because of the different nature of the mission of each agency.
There has also been question about the accident response program of air carriers, and, Mr. Hall, I'd like you to reflect a moment whether we might direct, through legislation, or the department, through regulation or FAA through regulation, each airline, as part of its accident response manual, to have a very specific program approved by not just the FAA but also the NTSB, and repeated recertification of such accident response manual, as is part of their operations specifications.
Page 43 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
If it is required to be in their manual, and they can't operate without it in their manual, and they have to have yearly drills on it, many of the glitches that occurred likely would not happen in the future, in addition to the other framework that we're trying to put around this.
Mr. HALL. I think that's an excellent suggestion, Congressman. I guess the most disappointing thing to me, as chairmanand, as you know, there are people at this table that have been involved in this issue from the loss of a personal family member before I was ever even a member or a chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. What disappointed me most has been the response of the airlines.
I think it is just a fundamental responsibility that they have, so we would certainly be glad to work with you in any way that we think will get the airlines on board on doing what needs to be accomplished.
Mr. OBERSTAR. I'll have other questions later. I see the red light is on, Mr. Chairman. Thank you.
[Mr. Oberstar's prepared statement follows:]
Page 44 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DUNCAN. I thank you very much, Mr. Oberstar.
Mr. EHLERS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I have attended every hearing we've had on this topic, so I will try to keep my comments brief in the interest of time and in an attempt to avoid repeating myself.
I think, first of all, we have a fundamental problem in that the airlines, which have a task of flying airplanes and getting people from one place to another, are, in general, not trained in dealing with these disasters.
The other difficulty is the majority of the airlinesmost of them, in facthave less than one accident per decade, so any time they have an accident and they have to deal with it, there are very few people around remaining from the previous one, and so they are untrained and unpracticed, regardless of what type of disaster plan they may have in effect. I suspect they don't run through the drill often enough to really have an impact.
It seems clear to me that an agency such as the NTSB or some other group that deals with these on a regular basis would be much better equipped.
I think it's high time we get moving on this bill.
A second comment I would make is on the manifest issue. Airlines can, within an hour, at most, give a manifest listing the names of the passenger tickets, and I have recognized the liability question. I believe Congresswoman Danner had a good point. Let's remove the liability question and they'd probably be willing to release that passenger list immediately.
Page 45 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Admittedly, in domestic flights there is a high probability that one or two people whose names are on the ticket were not on the plane. That can be dealt with later. But at least let's get the 98 percent of the names out there immediately, and that can be done within an hour.
On international flights the probability of error is even less because of the passport situation. Very few people fly with fake passports or wrong names, and so they should have a much higher accuracy on those names. I think the NTSB should have the right to have that list immediately and to handle it properly.
A final point, just as a matter of concern for the relatives of the victimsand I echo the comments that Congressman LaHood made, and certainly give you our condolences and sympathies. These are tragic events, and I'm just amazed to see you here dealing with this time after time after time. It has to bring back terrible memories each time an accident occurs, and I commend you for your efforts to resolve this.
On the media, just one comment. I am afraid the media have become the modern-day vultures in terms of dealing with these tragedies, and I've reached the point that whenever I see this on the news I turn the TV set off just as a protest. I know that doesn't register with the news organizations or the sponsors, but maybe more Americans have to protest at the obligatory crying relatives' pictures on the scenes. You know what the relatives have gone through, and you knowthose of us who are in this business who have the media intruding in our lives all the timeand we don't object, because we asked for it, but we know what you go through in order for those pictures to appear on TV. And as a protest, I simply turn them off and say, ''Leave the people alone. Let them be in their grief.''
Page 46 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
So you have my sympathies and appreciation for being here.
Mr. Chairman, having said that, I willI don't have any questions. I just wanted to make those comments. But I do think it is important to, as quickly as possible, clean up the bill, make it appropriate, and get it out of this committee and try to get it passed.
Thank you very much.
Mr. DUNCAN. Mrs. Cummock?
Mrs. CUMMOCK. Mr. Ehlers, if I may, regarding the media, an interesting thing happened. There was the massacre of many school children in Dunblain, Scotland, not too long ago, and the Scottish police and the authorities there had decided that, after Lockerbie, that they did not want the same media frenzy to occur.
They asked the families what type of support. Do you want this to be open or do you not want it to be open? And it was the authorities that did what the families requested, and the families all requested that none of the funerals, none of the meetings, nothing got covered.
As you will recall, there was very, very little done with the Dunblain Massacre. The authorities responded to all the children going back to school. They said that if any media person was caught taping these kids going back to school or any intrusive media coverage, that they would then get arrested and be held accountable.
Page 47 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
And I think that there are ways that our country can address the media issue and ask the families, because there are many different avenues that are available that we can get support from our Government.
Mr. EHLERS. There are some things we can do in this country but we have much greater Constitutional assurances of freedom of the press than the British do, and that always raises Constitutional issues, but I certainly think any private ceremony, if family wishes to bar the media, they should be able to do that.
Mrs. CUMMOCK. The beautiful thing that happened in Oklahoma City was that, with the Red Cross being the lead in terms of care of those families, National Guard was put around the compassion center where all the families were coming to wait as the bodies were being recovered from the Murrah Building, and the media was totally controlled and separate.
The families knew that if they wanted to go to the media, that they were there, but the media could not hang around the parking lot. They weren't there taking pictures, or whatever, and those families got the full support in terms of having the media being kept from them.
I remember that my 3-, 4-, and 6-year-old, all they knew was that some stranger killed their daddy and then these strangers were trying to sneak into the house or put camera lenses, and they were petrified, because they thought that those were the same strangers that had killed their dad. They were so traumatized by that, as are the families repeatedly after these air disasters.
Page 48 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
I think that something can be done to offer local police support to the families who want to have these people kept away from them, but, unfortunately, unless it's done proactively, the families in the middle of a funeral then realizethey look up and then there are cameras and then it's too late.
But I do feel that if there is a more proactive approach, by giving the NTSB, who is already there at the disaster, the lead agency, they can pull in different people and say, ''Okay, we need to secure this building much better. Let's get rid of the media. Let's get rid of the lawyers.''
In the ValuJet disaster, the lawyers were handing out cards as we were getting off the busses from the Everglades. The NTSB didn't have the authority to say there should be no lawyers staying at this hotel.
So when you don't have the lead agency to really coordinate efforts, the families really are just open to any intrusive force.
Mr. EHLERS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. Ehlers. Certainly you and Mr. LaHood both have raised some good points and real concerns, and we are trying to go as far as we can in this legislation.
Page 49 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Obviously, we can't place many restrictions on the media due to freedom of press, but, Mr. Smith, it might be a good idea for your organization to request a meeting with some of these national journalistic groups such as Sigma Delta Chi, the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the National Association of Broadcasters, and even others, and get some of these family groups together and possibly they could come up with some sort of policy of restraint or some sort of statement to show that they would be willing to act in a more humane manner in these situations.
I think that might be a good thing to at least try, and then we could look into it further, I guess, if that didn't work.
Mr. SMITH. We thank you for that thought, and we accept that opportunity and will move forward in that direction.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
First of all, I want to thank all the witnesses for being here this morning, particularly Ms. Cox, who I extend my condolences to in her recent tragedy. It's a great testimony to you and to your daughter, your being here and testifying today, and I certainly appreciate that.
Page 50 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Unfortunately, your testimony was really very appalling to me in that we've had some hearings on this situation. I have had airlines come to my office. I'm sure other Members have had airlines come to their offices. They talk about the situation and say how they plan to deal with it. They seem to be very, very sensitized to the plight of the victims in these airline crashes, and yet what we hear from you and what we heard from other sources, there simply did not seem to be one ounce of improvement in how TWA handled this situation from any of the situations in the past, and that is really very, very shocking to me.
It's hard to understand how, with all the exposure the situations have received relatively recently, that there would not have been a much, much better job done by TWA.
I'm very happy to hear that the President is issuing an executive order in regards to this situation. I know, with the leadership of Chairman Duncan, we're going to do everything possible to pass this legislation into law before we adjourn in 1996. I think that this hearing today and what happened with TWA makes it even more imperative that we do so.
To switch gears, I want to say once again, from all the reports that we have received, the National Transportation Safety Board has done an outstanding job, and I compliment the two gentlemen sitting here from that agency this morning.
We've dealt with a number of issues in the past, but it's remarkable to me thatif you have a P.R. man, I'd like to know who the P.R. man is, because agencies of Government are continually criticized, and criticized very severely in this day and age, and yet every time you seem to go into the field you come out as a champion.
Page 51 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
I know it's not your P.R. man. I know it's the job that you do. Once again, I salute you for that.
I have serious reservations, though, about the National Transportation Safety Board taking over as the lead agency, only because you are a relatively small agency. I don't really think that you have the manpower, I don't think you really have the resources to take on the added responsibility that we collectively are about to give to you.
I think it's going to be absolutely necessary for a very significant infusion of financial resources to your agency, an increase in the membership of your agency in order for you to handle the responsibilities that are being placed upon you.
I just hope that it is possible in a rapid period of time for you to be able to get these new resources, get this new personnel, and train them and, frankly, inspire them to do the same type of job that you have been doing in the past.
Chairman Hall, do you have any comment on what I just had to say in regards to the size of your agency, the responsibility you're going to be getting, and the manpower and the financial infusion that you're going to need?
Mr. HALL. Congressman, let me say, first, that, as I stated in my testimony, my interestand I think the interest of the Boardis primarily in seeing that this responsibility that has not been performed, or been performed very ineffectively in the past, be done.
Page 52 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
I was, quite frankly, as I expressed earlier, most disappointed that the airlines did not step in. We sat with Mr. Smith a year ago and went over these concerns with the airlines in anticipation that they would come forward with a program to address these concerns.
When they did not, I took independent action as chairman of the Board to put together a pamphlet for family members, designate existing members of the Board to serve as information and liaison people for the family members. I think this committee has an important responsibility, because the National Transportation Safety Board is not whoever the current chairman is. It's not Jim Hall. FEMA is not James Lee Witt. We are all public servants in entities created by this Congress to perform specific missions.
You all need to decide, in your wisdom, where is the best place for this responsibility to be placed. I'm very supportive of wherever it would be, whether it would be with our agency or with FEMA or with another agency that you would select.
My primary interest is that somebody be accountable and somebody do the job. Once you have somebody that's accountable, you need to work with that somebody, be it NTSB or FEMA, as your staff works with our staff now, to ensure that we have the adequate resources.
Right now, we haven't had the authority, and I think that's what the President is trying to address with this executive order and what the chairman and this committee is trying to address through this legislation. Somebody with Government representing these passengers and survivors and family members needs to be in a position of having the responsibility to address these concerns.
Page 53 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Let me just say one other thing. Each and every accident will present new challenges, and there may be issues that we aren't even addressing here that may come up. We never anticipated an accident in the Everglades where almost half of the passengers weren't identified. This TWA accident presents new and unique challenges. But I think the important thing is that this Congressthis committee and Congress task somebody with this responsibility that has not been performed.
Mr. LIPINSKI. We agree with that. My point simply is that I don't see how you can do it with your present manpower, with your present
Mr. HALL. I don't think we could do it with our present manpower, and I do not know, Congressman, how many additional resources would be required.
My first instinct would be to try to look at other Federal agencies and not recreate entities just to recreate different layers of Government, to take advantage of what's there. But I think in terms of having enough people to effectively direct that, that's going to take additional resources and manpower that our agency presently does not have.
Mr. LIPINSKI. And I think that this committee and Congress, in general, have to do a more thorough job on oversight that was referred to earlier about the State Department and the manifest and this being an international flight. I think that's something that we have to get on top of and see to it that what we pass here is actually implemented and implemented during the time of a disaster.
Page 54 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I just have one more question, Mr. Hall. If you try to keep the answer as brief as possible so we can move on, I'll try to keep my question as brief as possible.
Mrs. CUMMOCK. Mr. Lipinski, may I say one thing regarding the State Department?
Mr. LIPINSKI. Yes.
Mrs. CUMMOCK. The State Department, since the plane went in 12 miles off-shore, it was short of the 12-mile limit. They jurisdictionally have to go everything fromany disaster 12 miles on, so it was at about 11 miles off-shore. So although it was a Warsaw ticket and an international flight, the jurisdictionthat issue was one that they investigated.
They were there and really active at the time. I'm not a proponent of the State Department, but
Mr. LIPINSKI. But if they're supposed to have the manifest by law, whether it crashed two, three, four miles or 12 miles or 13 miles, they should still have the manifest because the plane was
Mrs. CUMMOCK. The rulemaking was never written on that, sir, and the law was passed and the rulemaking was not written.
Mr. LIPINSKI. I realize that, but it just seems to me that the State Department could have been more enthusiastic in what they should have been doing over there.
Page 55 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Chairman Hall, I want to just digress slightly, but you had brought it up in your testimony, and that is this central fuel tank on the TWA flight.
Everybody thinks it was a missile. Everybody thinks it was a bomb. And it may very well have been. But we also keep going back to this fuel tank.
Now, I understand the fuel tank was almost empty. I understand that the fuel tank built up somepossibly built up some fumes.
Now, I want to know, would something have to stillwhat would have to occur in order for the fuel tank to have blown up? We have this empty fuel tank with fumes in it. What has to occur for that to be the cause of the crash?
Mr. HALL. I have, Congressman, with me Dr. Bernard Loeb, who is the head of our Office of Aviation Safety, and I'll ask him to come to the table.
While he's doing that, let me briefly say that there are handling units for the air conditioning for that plane. The plane was on the ground 3 or 4 hours. My understanding is that those were running. They are located under the fuel tank. So there is a possibility that this could be an accident. There was a similar accident in the Philippines.
But since we are in this technical area and I have Dr. Loeb here, if it is satisfactory with the committee, let me have him respond.
Page 56 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LIPINSKI. Doctor, go right ahead.
Dr. LOEB. Thank you, Mr. Congressman.
There are several possible sources of ignition that we have not had the opportunity yet to look at.
The center tank has three pumps, two of which we have recovered and have examined and do not see, from those pumps, any indication that they may have been a source of ignition. However, there is a third pump, a scavenge pump, that we have not yet recovered.
There are a number of fuel probes in the tank. We have not recovered any of those probes.
There is also some wiring leading to some of the pumps that we haven't recovered, any of which could have been a source of ignition for the fuel air fumes that were in the tank.
Until we recover those pieces and look at them, we really can't answer the question of which of those may have caused an ignition.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Okay. What you just stated, though, leads me to another question. You said that this did occur in the Philippines?
Dr. LOEB. There was a Boeing 737 in Manila that was pushing back to taxi out. There was a fire in the center fuel tank. The airplane was severely damaged. The airplane was unflyable. Wings were damaged. Fire gutted the airplane, essentially.
Page 57 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. LIPINSKI. What caused that?
Dr. LOEB. That fuel air explosion was ignited in the center tank, was ignited by an electrical source, and we believe it was likely the float switch, but it also may have been a wire bundle that ran through that had the potential to have a short in it. There had been some repair work done on it and a pick used to try to get an additional wire through, and we never determined precisely which of those two causes, although either one of them could have. We made a number of recommendations to the FAA at the time.
As I say, that airplane was rendered unflyable. That is a model that we are using and looking at, although that was a 737, not a 747.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Now, are there any steps that can be taken to prevent this possible explosion, I mean as simple as filling up the fuel tank with fuel?
Dr. LOEB. There are a number of things that could be done: filling the tank, inerting the tank, or perhaps even purging the tank. There are ways of possibly doing this, and we're going to be looking at that as a part of this investigation.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Have you, since the TWA crash, made any recommendations to the FAA to implement any kind of changes in how the airlines handle their fuel tank situation?
Dr. LOEB. Not since the TWA crash.
Page 58 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. LIPINSKI. You have prior to that, though?
Dr. LOEB. We made some recommendations, as I indicated, after the Philippines accident, but it was not so much in the handling aspects as it was for some mechanical and design remedies.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Has that been implemented by the FAA?
Dr. LOEB. Some had, most had not. The FAA did not agree with our position on the source of ignition, especially the float switch, so the recommendations that had addressed the float switch were not acted upon. Some were, though.
We will be looking, in the course of the TWA investigation, more into the handling aspects of the fuel.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Let me just sayMr. Hall, you want to talk?
Mr. HALL. Well, what I would like to do, Congressman, is supply those recommendations and FAA response for the record.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Thank you very much.
[The information received follows:]
Page 59 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC [Insert here.]
Mr. LIPINSKI. Would simply filling the fuel tank resolve this potential problem?
Dr. LOEB. Since we do not know what occurred and the source of ignition is
Mr. LIPINSKI. Let's talk about the Philippine situation, if the fuel tank was filled in the Philippine situation.
Dr. LOEB. In the Philippine situation it is unlikely, had the fuel tank been full, that the accident would have occurred, certainly not in the way it did.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Thank you.
Mr. Chairman, I know I'm way over my time. I appreciate very much your indulgence.
Mr. DUNCAN. That's all right. Thank you very much.
Mr. COBLE. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Page 60 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Chairman, not unlike my friend from Minnesota, I had another meeting, so I have not been able to be privy to all that was said today.
Chairman Hall, let me revisit your exchange with Chairman Duncan concerning the resources that exist in the Federal sector that could be mobilized to support this new mission for NTSB, or for whoever.
You indicated that additional authority might be needed to implement that. Now, could that authority, Chairman Hall, be realized with the appropriate departments working in-house with NTSB, or do you believe separate legislation would be needed for that?
Mr. HALL. I believe separate legislation is required.
Mr. COBLE. I'm told that a request has been made to private sector entitiesBoeing, TWA, and Pratt, among othersto provide funds to defray the cost of investigations of these tragedies.
Is that correct, Chairman Hall? And what is the status of those requests?
Mr. HALL. That is correct. I sent a letter to those companies requesting that they assist in providing funds for the recovery process. This is customary to what has been done in the past on our investigations. Because of the fact, Congressman, that it is still in question whether this accident was an accident or a criminal act, they have, at this point, declined to respond in an affirmative way to my request.
Page 61 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. COBLE. Is that normal procedure, Chairman, to make requests such as I just mentioned?
Mr. HALL. Yes, sir.
Mr. COBLE. I'm thinking aloud now, Mr. Chairman, and this may have been touched already, but it is my belief that airlines do not presently take information regarding name, address, and telephone number of the next-of-kin or the person who should be notified. It seems to me that could be implemented.
Granted, this is going to be an additional duty on the airlines, but I would think it would not be that onerous. Has anyone thought about that, Chairman?
Mr. HALL. Congressman, I think that's the most common-sense thing that could be done in this whole area. My understanding is there is a reluctance to do that for the obvious reason that most people don't want to be reminded that they may not return from the flight.
Mr. COBLE. I can see that.
Mr. HALL. Some 90 percent of the people that board airlines in this country are already in the airline computers in frequent flyer programs or in some sort of fashion, and it's a matter of that information being organized and the elective option being given to passengers if they want to have that next-of-kin information there. It could be brought up immediately.
Page 62 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
The passengers that declined, then you would be able to say to a family member, ''That is why you have not been notified on a prompt basis.''
Mr. COBLE. I almost did not even submit that because of the simplification, but I'm glad that you concur with me.
Mr. Smith, you objected, I believe, to the reference in the bill of ''significant loss of life.'' I don't think the draftsman intended to indicate that one life may have been superior to another one. I think he or she was referring to the number of deaths.
Having said thatand again, Mr. Chairman, I don't guess ''significant'' is defined, but obviously meaning a large number of losses of life.
Mr. Smith, are you aware of any accident in which an insignificant lossby that I mean one, two, or three. By ''insignificant'' I mean numbers, not by any means saying it's not a significant loss. But insignificant-numbers-wise, are you familiar where complaints have been submitted about the airlines' treatment for families in those accidents where only a very few people perished?
Mr. SMITH. I'm not specifically aware that anybody has applied a quantitative measure for their response. What we are trying to preclude is to make sure that no one does use a quantified element of what is significant or non-significant in their response.
Mr. COBLE. And I don't disagree with you about that.
Page 63 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. Chairman, maybe we need to revisit that feature in the bill.
Mr. SMITH. I refer specifically, Congressman, to the Delta tragedy with the engine that let go and only two passengers were killed.
Mr. COBLE. Yes.
Mr. SMITH. Would that come under this legislation? Yes or no? Is it only one?
Mr. COBLE. At least it's a question I think that we need to probe. I notice some folks in the audience smiled when I said ''insignificant loss.'' I repeat, I did not mean that in any way to diminish the severity.
Mr. SMITH. I know you did not, and we want to make sure that no one subsequent to this passage of the legislation would read it with misintent.
Mr. COBLE. I concur, and that's why I directed attention to it.
Mr. Chairman, I thank you, and I thank you all for being with us today.
Mr. DUNCAN. Well, thank you very much, Mr. Coble, for some very fine questions and comments.
Page 64 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. Danner?
Ms. DANNER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I have one last question of Chairman Hall.
Chairman Hall, according to media reports, we understand that there have been components of two explosives found with regard to TWA 800. I see your expert behind you shaking his head. Perhaps I need to pose the question to him. Would you please address that issue if, indeed, the two components have been found, and, indeed, how much more you expect to find before you make a decision that this was a criminal act?
Mr. HALL. Well, the decision whether this was a criminal act is up, essentially, to the FBI. We have worked very closely with the FBI. We do have one individual who is an explosives expert. He is working very closely with the FBI personnel that are on the scene in their laboratories in Washington in looking for any traces of explosives on any part of TWA flight 800, of that airplane's structure or passenger clothinganything that would indicate an explosive.
Ms. DANNER. Have they found two components?
Mr. HALL. The first trace was one explosive, and another trace that was found in a different part of the airplane that was two different types of explosives.
They emphasize that these are trace amounts, and, as a result, do not provide them the amount of information that they would need in order to take this investigation over.
Page 65 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Ms. DANNER. If we would hypothesize that no further evidence would be foundespecially I know that we're quite concerned about what Eduoard may have done and what Fran may do with regard to the evidence on the ocean floor. If no further evidence would be forthcoming, who would make a decision as to what was the cause of the crash of TWA 800?
Mr. HALL. Well, Congresswoman, that, of course, would be speculative at this point. I anticipate that, with the recovery of the
Ms. DANNER. The decision would be speculative, but who would make that decision?
Mr. HALL. Well, the decision, as it presently stands, is this is an investigation of the National Transportation Safety Board. At such time the FBI would request that they take this over as a criminal investigation, we would certainly defer to that request.
But, given your supposition, we would remain in control of the investigation and it would be our investigation.
Ms. DANNER. So it would just be left as it is today, with no decision really being made, if no further evidence was forthcoming?
Mr. HALL. That is certainly a possibility, but, again, that's very speculative. That is not what I anticipate will happen.
Page 66 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Ms. DANNER. You anticipate that a decision will be made?
Mr. HALL. Yes, ma'am.
Ms. DANNER. Even with the limited evidence that you say we have now?
Mr. HALL. No. I said that with the evidence that we hope to recover and the further work
Ms. DANNER. But my question was: if we recover no further evidence, who is going to make a decision as to whether TWA was a criminal act or not, if everything is as it is now, no further evidence?
Mr. HALL. That's the FBI's decision.
Ms. DANNER. I see. Is it possibledo the agencies know more than the media knows at this point in time? Is there information that we are unaware of?
Mr. HALL. Each agency would have to speak for itself. All of the information the NTSB has we promptly make available as soon as it comes to our attention. The FBI obviously would have to speak for themselves. If this is a criminal event or a terrorist event, they may follow different procedures.
Page 67 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. DANNER. Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Ms. Danner.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
In the aftermath of the June hearing, there was a good deal of discussion, persuasive discussion, that families of accident victims should be notified in person. There has also been information indicating that a personal notification system might delay the notification process. Phones obviously work faster than people driving in cars or getting on a plane and flying somewhere to notify a person.
What is your view, Ms. Cox and Mr. Monetti, Mr. Smith, about this idea of notification in personspeed of notification versus personal notification, accuracy versus getting information?
Ms. COX. While it would be a good idea to have somebody notified in person, from personal experience, I could have driven to New York and gotten a faster in-person response than I could have over the phone. I would have preferred that TWA could have answered my questions when I phoned in. It took 4 hours to get through on that line, only to get no information.
Page 68 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
If I could have gotten through on the phone lines as quickly as possible, that would have satisfied me. I wouldn't have had to wonder.
Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. Oberstar, let me interrupt at this time.
Mr. Hall, you need to be at the White House, so
Mr. HALL. If that's okay, Mr. Chairman. I do want the committee to be aware of the fact that we are launching on an accident at Stewart Air Force Base. There was a Federal Express DC10 that had smoke in the cockpit, landed, and I believe there has been a subsequent fire. So if it's okay with the committee, if I could excuse myself I would appreciate it.
Mr. DUNCAN. Yes. You certainly may.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Mr. Smith?
Mr. SMITH. Congressman Oberstar, the desire would be to have notification in person. We recognize, with current technology, that it can be done by phone. The issue is then that there would be immediate follow-up so that there would be eye-to-eye contact with someone in authority. That can be done through civil authority, as in the case of an automotive accident. There is a knock at the door. Rather than just receive a phone call and then silence for X number of hours, there should be a mechanism for some type of follow-up activity.
Page 69 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC If airline personnel or other designated organization personnel are not able to attend to a family immediately, there is, within this country, civil jurisdiction in every county. There are resources available for contact.
Mr. OBERSTAR. So if the NTSB has the primary responsibility for notification or if some other entity had primary responsibility, they would not have to send somebody out from accident site; they could notifyyou'd be satisfied that if a local unit of the Red Cross or local police entity
Mr. SMITH. Absolutely.
Mr. OBERSTAR. came and made a call to tell you?
Mr. SMITH. Absolutely. If possible, if a mechanism could be set up, potentially the notification might go either in parallel or precedent to the family, and then someone is at the door at the time a coordinative phone call comes through.
That may be too detailed to ask, but, nevertheless, it has been highly recommended.
If you look at the written testimony that was submitted in June by one State and their emergency response, notification should be given in person. I don't think you would want to receive a phone call that your grandchildren today, at this moment, were killed. I think you would much prefer that someone walk in that door and say, ''Congressman, can you step outside for a few minutes? We have something we need to discuss.''
Page 70 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. OBERSTAR. Provided that person is properly trained and knows how to handle the situation.
Mr. SMITH. That is correct.
Mr. OBERSTAR. And not just, as occurred in one case, give the news and then say awkwardly, ''Have a good day.''
Mr. SMITH. That may have occurred, and I believe it was recorded in the testimony.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Mr. Monetti?
Mr. SMITH. One otherexcuse me, if I may?
Mr. OBERSTAR. Yes.
Mr. SMITH. One of the problems that I incurred, and it has been discussed numerous times, and I don't mean to bring it up again, but it is an example where information was confirmed to us at a specific time that we had lost our daughter. Twelve hours subsequent, we were then notified that she was not a passenger. I believe I testified earlier in June to this committee, if for two-tenths of a second I had a flash of hope that she was in the corn field covered with mud, I had to squelch that. I had to turn around and talk my way up the supervisory line of the airline to get them squared away.
Page 71 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
I think, had someone eventually come and knocked on my door, we would have straightened out a lot of these issues before the second call came in.
This is a pattern that also was involved in USAir 427, where the same situation occurred. So this whole notification process is critical and very sensitive, and that's why we ask for follow-up confirmation in person, eyeball-to-eyeball, the way a doctor would walk down the hall and speak to you in the waiting room. I don't think you would be satisfied with a phone call from surgery.
Mr. OBERSTAR. I understand very well. I'm just exploring all the
Mr. SMITH. There are a lot of mechanics that we can explore, and we're open to all those discussions.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Yes. Mr. Monetti, you were indicating a desire to respond?
Mr. MONETTI. I agree wholeheartedly with what Mr. Smith said. The problem is that at that point, regardless of how good you do it, it's still really rotten news.
Mr. OBERSTAR. There is no question about it, and obviously the airlines have to be better prepared with the information necessary from the passenger manifest, and the inexcusable delays in getting the passenger manifest regulations out are at bottom of the obstacle to having made progress on that.
Page 72 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Part of that has been action taken by various interests to prohibit the State Department and the Department of Transportationparticularly DOTfrom issuing passenger manifest regulations. We require that in the 1990 act, as Mr. Smith indicated at the outset. Mr. Monetti, you have said many times, ''Enforce the existing law.''
But there were certain interests that went to the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee in the House and succeeded in getting a prohibition on issuance of those regulations.
Mr. Clinger and I joined in offering an amendment to strike that language. We got 68 votes for our amendment. We lost 68 to 348 on the House floor 2 years after passage of the law, 2 1/2 years after the tragedy of Pan-Am 103. How quickly the public forgets.
So I'm very pleased the President is moving on this issue and the Vice President's Commission is moving on this issue, and hopefully by next Monday there will be some decisive action.
But there is much more that needs to be done. I think this legislation moves us in the right way.
I have other questions here, but I think, Mr. Chairman, we've explored these matters sufficiently.
Mr. DUNCAN. All right. Thank you very much, Mr. Oberstar.
Page 73 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Ms. Cox, just let me say I didn't get to you the first round, and Mr. LaHood I think was the first one to mention the absolute riveting nature of your statement that you submitted to us telling about your last moments with your daughter and how you found out about this.
I know Mr. LaHood has several children, and one of my children is a 17-year-old daughter, and I can tell you that for any parent the absolute worst thing that can happen is to outlive one of your children, as Mr. Smith has mentioned his daughter. But you actually received your first news of this from your father calling you and telling you about what he had seen on CNN, didn't you?
Ms. COX. Yes, sir, a little after 10:00 p.m.
Mr. DUNCAN. But then after that you mentioned in your first statement that there were only busy signals for hours, and you actually didn't receive confirmation for 20 hours; is that correct?
Ms. COX. Well, technically my father received confirmation in New York after about 20 hours. At that point in time my husband and I had already left Pennsylvania and were en route. So my husband and I technically got no confirmation until about 8:30 on the 18th, 24 hours into it.
Mr. DUNCAN. Well, this points up the need, I think, to do something, and we are certainly open to suggestions to improve this legislation, and that's the purpose of this second hearing.
Page 74 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
We're going to work on this very quickly so thatalthough we may not be able to, I still hope we can do something on this legislation in these final weeks of this session.
Thank you very much, all of you, for being with us today. We appreciate very much your testimony. Thank you very much.
Mr. DUNCAN. We'll now proceed to panel number two. The second panel, panel number two, consists of: Dr. John A. Clizbe, who is the national chairman for disaster services for the American Red Cross, who is accompanied by Mr. Donald W. Jones, who is vice president of disaster services for the Red Cross; Captain Edmond L. Soliday, who is vice president of corporate safety and security for United Airlines; and Mr. Robert W. Baker, who is executive vice president for operations for American Airlines.
Gentlemen, we certainly appreciate your willingness to come here today and testify in regard to this legislation, and we will do as we did with the first panelwe'll proceed in the order that the witnesses are listed.
Dr. Clizbe, that means we'll start with you, please.
TESTIMONY OF JOHN A. CLIZBE, NATIONAL CHAIRMAN, DISASTER SERVICES, AMERICAN RED CROSS, ACCOMPANIED BY DONALD W. JONES, VICE PRESIDENT, DISASTER SERVICES; CAPTAIN EDMOND L. SOLIDAY, VICE PRESIDENT, CORPORATE SAFETY AND SECURITY, UNITED AIRLINES; AND ROBERT W. BAKER, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, OPERATIONS, AMERICAN AIRLINES
Page 75 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Dr. CLIZBE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'm Dr. John Clizbe, the national chairman of disaster services for the Red Cross. I also, for the record, am a practicing and licensed clinical psychologist with Nordli, Wilson Associates, and have been for about 26 years, and, as a result of that, I have personally responded to a number of national disasters as a mental health responder under the Red Cross.
We have submitted to the committee an extensive document and statement for the record. I have asked Donald W. Jones, the vice president of disaster services at the American Red Cross, to summarize that statement.
Mr. JONES. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the panel. We are delighted to be here, and we appreciate the opportunity for the American Red Cross to appear before this committee regarding this legislative proposal. We believe it reflects an acknowledgement of the objective expertise of the American Red Cross, its consistent performance in providing disaster relief services, and a level of trust in the compassion, humanitarian focus, and vast experience of our disaster services volunteers.
One hundred and fifteen years of disaster relief experience has taught the American Red Cross that clarity of responsibility, along with thorough planning and preparedness throughout the U.S., is absolutely essential for compassionate and effective disaster relief effort.
Page 76 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In order to fulfill the expectations of this legislation for an organization such as the American Red Cross, we urge that a single organization be designated to respond to all such disasters so that appropriate planning and preparedness can be undertaken and the disaster response, whenever needed, will be immediate and focused on human need, and that designation certainly can't wait until after the event occurs.
For over a century, the American Red Cross' focus and expertise has been helping people prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters, and through our 1,500 Red Cross chapters we have a nationwide presence, trained people in our network, and a system to mobilize and respond at a local and national level.
In recent years, the American Red Cross has expanded its disaster relief services to include mental health services and counseling to people affected by disasters.
At this point in time I would like to pay a special tribute to Ms. Cummock for the support she has given. She went to Oklahoma City, worked with us for about 10 days. She certainly was helpful to us in the ValuJet crash in breaking some barriers that we were encountering, and certainly in the TWA crash. She has certainly been an advocate for our efforts, and I want to publicly express our thanks to her for that.
Aviation disasters can occur anywhere in the country, but are more likely to involve major metropolitan areas or large airports. The greater likelihood of aviation disasters at those locations prompts local Red Cross units to initiate specific planning and preparedness activities with local authorities and community agencies to respond to aviation and other emergencies.
Page 77 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
In more remote locations, the Red Cross system of disaster response comes into play. Local Red Cross units would respond immediately to the arising physical and mental health needs, just as they would in any other disaster situation, and the Red Cross national disaster operation center would mobilize resources to complement existing resources in the community. We would have a quick response team to augment those local resources if the situation dictated.
If designated as the independent nonprofit organization referenced in the proposed legislation, the American Red Cross would recommend a number of new and additional actions to facilitate the response of the airline industry to the needs of the families. Among these would be to collaborate with the National Transportation Safety Board, the Air Transport Association, and the individual airlines, to establish a common set of procedures and develop training for airline employees and Red Cross volunteers and other responders that will ensure a compassionate and consistent response to commercial aviation accidents.
We stand ready to meet as soon as possible with airline chief executives to start this process in motion. Based on our experience, we can assist the airlines in developing next-of-kin notification procedures and information materials. These pre-accident training and preparedness activities must be adequately funded, however, to ensure that the necessary systems and services and resources are readily available when an aviation disaster occurs.
The American Red Cross has responded to numerous aviation disasters, and we have been very active since 1968. I know one of the Members had spoken about the frequency of aviation accidents sometimes every 10 years. We have been to all of them since 1968, so we have developed quite a lot of expertise in this area.
Page 78 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
The availability of trained mental health professionals was an essential part of that response, as it was in the most-recent TWA tragedy. Equally important, however, was the existence of an established and tested Red Cross system for mobilizing a large group of people, promptly integrating them into an effective team, and providing them with an organizational structure for meeting the unique needs of victims, the next-of-kin, and, when necessary, relief workers.
While we believe our efforts have been effective, our work has not typically been fully integrated into an overall response of local officials, Federal Government agencies, and the airlines. That is a major potential value of formalizing roles and responsibilities so that a common framework for effective planning, preparedness, and response with all appropriate entities can occur.
With regard to notification, we suggest two important considerations: first, family members must be first to promptly receive accurate information; second, families need, during and after the notification, effective compassion and professional support.
In my previous job, having served 35 years in the military, I was responsible for the casualty and mortuary affairs part of the U.S. Army, and in that position often having responsibility of notifying families to actual aviation accidents and fatalities associated with that.
I know of no occasion where we ever made a notification by any other means than direct notification of sending usually a chaplain or someone that was familiar with mental health needs of families, and then a survivor assistance officer to sit down with the family and say, ''This is what we can do to assist you in dealing with these difficult times.'' So I think we certainly can improve our efforts in that area.
Page 79 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
The airline is singularly in possession of the detailed documentation and information necessary to verify the passenger list, to determine next-of-kin, and to make emergency arrangements. Turning over an unverified list of passengers to third parties such as the Red Cross, unfortunately, I do not belief either increases the speed or the accuracy of that. It may even inadvertently make matters worse where inaccurate information might be inadvertently released.
However, there are a number of ways we believe the American Red Cross can add real value in addressing the overall intent of the legislation. We can use our mental health professionals to continue to work with families in a manner integrated with the overall operation, providing support during the notification process, assisting families in getting and dealing with information, helping them manage the administrative details associated with the injury or death of a loved one, and serving as a link to resources back home.
I believe that's one strength. By having 1,500 chapters, we not only serve the families who came to the Ramada Inn in New York; we connected local chapters. As they went back home, we networked someone in the local chapters with those families and are continuing to serve them today.
Because we use only licensed or certified mental health professionals, there do need to be special allowances made for them to cross State lines professionally.
But even though our mental health workers are licensed and certified in the States, often we run into States where we cannot work in those States without a waiver from the governor, and so we've got to deal with that, I think through another committee, Mr. Chairman, to try to lessen that, because we don't think it's good for the families, certainly not cost-effective, to turn over our work force every 5 days. We need some continuity of effort.
Page 80 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
The American Red Cross is ready to explore alternatives to help ease the burden of those who must deal with these overwhelming losses. We would be pleased to collaborate with the airline industry, passenger advocacy groups, and relevant Government agencies to establish a common framework and performance expectations for responding to aviation disasters.
With appropriate funding mechanisms, the American Red Cross would be willing to extend its disaster response training and to participate in the development of industry-specific training and preparedness plans to help ensure that airline carriers are ready to respond.
The Red Cross would also participate in disaster response evaluations, which we believe are essential to ensure that our response to such a disaster continually improves.
The Red Cross will continue to respond, of course, to major disasters wherever they occur in the United States. We believe experience of the Red Cross can help strengthen and improve the response to aviation disasters.
In conclusion, the Red Cross appreciates your efforts on behalf of the families of the victims of aviation disasters.
Once again, thank you for the opportunity to comment on this important legislation. We look forward to working with you and with the agency designated as lead agency in any way that we can to be a part of the solution to this problem.
Page 81 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Dr. Clizbe and Mr. Jones.
Captain SOLIDAY. Chairman Duncan, Congressman Lipinski, members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear here.
I've submitted a detailed written statement, which I would ask be included in the record, but, with your permission, I'd like to take just a few moments to summarize those remarks.
At United Airlines we believe that the family of each passenger involved in an accident deserves to be treated with respect, sensitivity, and dignity throughout the difficult time, which can last for years. There are no words that adequately express the emotion we feel or ease the grief in these situations, but we can do everything in our power to provide accurate, up-to-date information, and offer assistance and comfort that family members need.
We believe that United Airlines has a strong family notification and emergency response procedure in place that serves families well.
Let me run through just a few key aspects of our program.
When an accident occurs, we immediately, within minutes, put our crisis support center into action at the Chicago headquarters. The center allows us to effectively coordinate our communication efforts with our employees and agencies around the world.
Page 82 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
To protect the privacy of passengers and their families, we immediately restrict computer access to the flight manifest. We then cross-check our preliminary advanced check-in list against copies of the tickets taken from passengers as they boarded the flight.
When this match has been completed, we begin the initial notification process to inform families that a loved one was on board the aircraft. This usually occurs within 1 hour.
Shortly after an accident occurs, we also announce a toll-free telephone number for family members to call to gain more information about their loved ones. We make our entire reservation system available through this one number to handle the massive call volumes that are usually generated.
In a previous accident of ours, we received 40,000 phone calls within 24 hours.
Each family is assigned to a case worker from our special assistance team. Each individual case worker is specially trained for this duty and becomes the family's direct point of contact with United Airlines. Each family is provided with a direct personal telephone number to reach their individual case worker at any time. This case worker is authorized to provide any assistance that the family may need. The case worker is given complete access to all of our corporate resources to provide this assistance.
As part of our ongoing commitment to providing the best possible humanitarian response to accidents, United Airlines continuously prepares for crisis situations. We understand that every accident is different, and we study each one to learn how we can improve and better serve families in the future.
Page 83 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
We run a minimum of four accident simulation exercises every year involving every piece of our company. Each of these events involves major planning, includes participation of hundreds of employees and numerous Government agencies, including the Red Cross, whose services we have used in real accident scenarios since I have been with the company.
Mr. Chairman, we recognize the humanitarian intent of the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act, and we commend the committee for the hard work and commitment on this issue. Indeed, we believe that there are some positive aspects to this bill; however, it is our view that serveral provisions of the legislation may hamper our ability to fully serve the families in disaster situations.
Our most serious concern involves the potential to give a third-party agency the responsibility to notify families and manage emergency assistance. We believe this approach would create another layer of unnecessary bureaucracy that may interfere with families receiving the timely, high-quality emergency services they need and deserve.
At United, our experience is that many services that families request in these traumatic situations are things that only our employees can efficiently provide. Let me give you just a few examples.
Our case workers currently are empowered to make financial commitments on behalf of United Airlines to assist families with emergency expenses. I will tell you that in times of pain people's demands vary greatly, and we have said to our people, ''Make it happen. Spend the money. We'll worry about it later.''
Page 84 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
A third-party agency would not necessarily feel that they have the authority to make those commitments. In fact, officials from that agency would be inclined to check with our employees first, creating an unnecessary middle step.
Our case workers at United can make immediate travel arrangements for families, set up hotel accommodations, or make arrangements to transport the remains of a loved one. A third-party entity would have to come to us to accomplish many of these things.
Let me address one other important issue. We feel very strongly that the National Transportation Safety Board's role in family notification should not go beyond updating families on the progress of the accident investigation. We believe that any new responsibility in the areas of family notification or humanitarian aid could negatively impact the NTSB's status as an independent investigator and undermine its basic mission.
Mr. Chairman, in closing, let me thank you for the opportunity again to appear here. This is a very emotionally-charged issue with many complex elements and many differing viewpoints. We at United Airlines agree that standards may be necessary in the family notification and assistance process, but these standards should not create bureaucracy or limit our ability to provide immediate assistance to families.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Captain Soliday.
Page 85 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Baker?
Mr. BAKER. Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen of the committee, good morning.
My name is Bob Baker. I'm executive vice president of operations for American Airlines. I'm pleased to be here to discuss the important issue of attending to the needs of the families of aircraft accident victims.
While this issue has certainly received a lot of attention in recent months, my fellow panelists and I have spent a great deal of time and energy fine-tuning the process from lessons learned.
The appropriate procedures are a significant challenge since their use is, fortunately, infrequent. American operated without a fatality for 17 years prior to our accident in Cali, Colombia just this last December.
In my limited time today, I would like to make a few points which are more fully developed in my written testimony.
First, every aviation crisis is different. An accident at a remote site will pose different challenges from one that occurs at a major airport. The same can be said for those taking place in the U.S. and those which occur in foreign countries. Some accidents involve survivors; others do not. Still others present the absolute worst-case scenario: total destruction or impact in inaccessible terrain or water. Each scenario requires different plans and presents very different challenges for all concerned.
Page 86 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
The one thing all accidents have in common is that the logistics involved with addressing the needs of the family are difficult and complex, ranging from the notification of families to the handling of the victim's remains and personal effects.
One of the most difficult and often frustrating parts of the accident response process is the obtaining and releasing of passenger list information. Considering the anguish that erroneous passenger information could cause, we believe it is absolutely essential that any published list be rigorously accurate.
Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, all passenger lists, at least initially, are imprecise, and the sorting out of discrepancies, combined with the difficultly of contacting next-of-kin, consumes many hours of work on the part of airline employees.
Most people do not understand the fact that all passenger lists are really imprecise. People who make reservations frequently do not show up at the airport. Persons who check in for a flight do not necessarily board that particular aircraft. They may go on a previous flight to the same destination. In fact, after American's accident in Cali, Colombia, we spent 4 days, with the help of the FBI, tracking down the whereabouts for one of those persons for which we had both the ticket and a boarding pass.
Persons whose tickets are lifted at the door of the jet bridge are not necessarily the same persons as those who appear on the passenger list and our reservation system. Many passengers travel under assumed names or use another person's tickets. Hyphenated names and misspellings are not uncommon, particularly when international travel is involved. On international flights, many customers hold multiple passports.
Page 87 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
It is this sorting out of the discrepancies, combined with the difficulty of promptly contacting the next-of-kin, that simply takes time and a very well-managed effort. And in today's world in which many family units are non-traditional, we must be very precise when we contact the proper party to avoid getting involved in family private matters.
And to demonstrate a real-life situation, I took out of our reservations computer the 64 passenger name records of those people on board the airplane I came to Washington in yesterday and I did a quick analysis of those 64 people. Of the passenger name records, our reservations record, 37 percent in fact had what looked to be legitimate phone number contacts that we might use in a next-of-kin, 38 percent had either a business number or a travel agent, and 5 percent had no phone number whatsoever.
Now, if that airplane had gone down in the middle of the night, on a weekend, on a holiday, that's what we start with. And if you would like to see what we start with, I'll gladly supply this to the committee.
Can we do it faster? Absolutely. But with some sacrifice of accuracy. It is not a reluctance to release the information that is the problem, but the extreme concern we have for accuracy.
You could help by requiring that airline passengers travel under the correct names and provide airlines with true next-of-kin contacts.
Finally, the more than 30,000 travel agents in the United States who write more than 80 percent of our tickets need to be required to be full participants.
Page 88 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Perhaps the most important aspect of the treatment of the families of accident victims is our Customer Assistance Relief Effort, or CARE, program. The CARE team is made up of more than 900 trained personnel from the ranks of American Airlines, American Eagle, and other AMR employee groups.
These employees receive very specialized training in dealing with aircraft accidents, notification procedures, and identification procedures, and how best to deal with a very long list of issues.
Mr. Chairman, this is our manual on CARE. This contains very detailed procedures for every aspect of the response, as well as the training program. Again, we'd be more than happy to share this with the committee to give you a sense of how we go about this.
Some of the ways our CARE team members assist the families are making flight arrangements, assisting with ground transportation, arranging for hotel accommodations, making necessary telephone calls, locating or replacing personal belongings, and generally trying to keep the families informed about what is happening in connection with the accident.
The personnel requirement to respond to one of these accidents is truly compelling and significant. After our American Eagle accident in northern Indiana, we received over 19,000 phone calls within the first 48 hours. We deployed over 600 people to work with the families involved in our Cali, Colombia accident. Within 4 hours of that accident, American launched a 757 with over 100 employees on board to initiate the CARE process and accident investigation in Colombia.
Page 89 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Yet, despite the fact that the airlines have, in fact, made some mistakes, which we truly regret, it seems unlikely that any other agency or body is better prepared and equipped to attend to the needs of the victims' families.
Beyond the huge number of people required to carry out the necessary task, the logistics for activation, mobilization, and administration require truly significant infrastructure that must be planned and financed.
We don't have the luxury of 24 or 48 hours to respond, but rather something in the single digit range is required. We do not believe this can be accomplished by the third party respondents that have been suggested.
The cost of administering the CARE program in the aftermath of American Eagle flight 4184 was approximately $1 million, excluding air transportation costs.
Clearly, the issue of how to ensure that all carriers have the resources to meet the needs of victims' families is an appropriate issue for this committee to address.
Aside from the resources required and the complexity of the overall process, we feel our CARE program is an effective way to ensure that throughout the crisis, from the initial notification to transportation and lodging, to the handling of personal remains and funeral arrangements and any other follow-on issue, that each family has a continuous, constant presence to help the system every step of the way through this very terrible time.
Page 90 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Two specific tasks are often misunderstood.
First, the local medical examiner has complete control of the identification process: the techniques used, the manpower, the speed, the release of information, and eventually the release of the remains. We assist as much as we are allowed, but this process is outside the control of the airline or any other group you may recommend become involved.
The second task involves the recovery, cleaning, and return of personal effects. In recent years, environmental concerns have greatly complicated the process and literally removed the decisionmaking from the airlines in favor of local environmental officials. National guidelines would be most helpful.
Obviously, an aircraft accident, especially one resulting in fatalities, is a truly terrible event. As I have said, in this most difficult situation the need the victims' families are many and diverse. We believe our CARE program has been responsive and, based on letters from many of the families, some of which I've brought with me this morning, we think the program has been effective in dealing with most of their needs.
Above all else, the families deserve to be provided with respect, compassion, and truth.
At American Airlines we are strongly in favor of whatever process will best accomplish that mission, and we stand ready to work with the committee or with whomever you lodge the responsibility, but it's time to get on with it.
Page 91 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Well, thank you very much, Mr. Baker.
I'm going to yield my time on this first round to Mr. LaHood.
Mr. LAHOOD. I want to be sure I understand what both gentlemen from the airlineare you saying that you would prefer that Congress not designate another agency or another bureaucracy to become the lead agency or the lead point of contact to assist in notifying family members?
Mr. BAKER. I feel very strongly that it is the airline's moral obligation to perform that notification. It is not an easy process, for all the reasons I outlined. Clearly, any help we can get from the Red Cross, from law enforcement, we would not only welcome but encourage. In terms of coming up with names, getting through some of the discrepancies, we do fine. But we are the best ones to create the fastest response, but we can certainly use all the assistance we can get.
Now, as to the NTSB's particular role, I think it is absolutely appropriate that, in addition to the investigative process to try to determine probable cause, that the NTSB have an expert take note, watch, and observe how we respond, and, as part of their investigative report, write a commentary on the things we did well, the things we didn't do so well, the lessons learned for the rest of the industrybecause every one of these is different.
Page 92 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I think that kind of critique would make this process better as we go forward.
Captain SOLIDAY. Sir, I think the answer to your question for us is: a large air carrier with a strong infrastructure, with a reservation system that can handle a million phone calls a day, we do not want things in the way of us notifying people, and thereas Mr. Baker alluded, in the current milieu, a number of folks do not give us phone numbers, and so we have people calling in and we have phone calls going out.
In our structure, with the 800 number which allows us to put a case worker with a family immediately, we don't see the advantage of putting someone in between that process.
Probably before a Government agency is mobilized, in most accidents, in my experience, we have been mobilized with a Go-Team to the site to deal with families going there within 90 minutes. We do not see a Government agency that's prepared to do that at this time. We don't see anyone that is prepared to answer phone calls within 1 hour. We don't see any structure in Government today that has the capability of dealing with 40,000 phone calls in a 24-hour period.
Do we need standards that apply to the industry? Do we need help in making certain that customers give us their correct name and give us next-of-kin to notify and telephone numbers that are useful 24 hours a day? Yes. But we do not need an agency to answer telephones.
I don't know how you will build the infrastructure to do what we do.
Page 93 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LAHOOD. So, basically, United and American do not support this legislation?
Captain SOLIDAY. I would say that is not accurate. I think the legislation has some good features. I think that particular part that talks about this interim person needs to be clarified what their role is. I don't want to notify him and wait for him to tell me it's okay to notify customers' families.
Mr. LAHOOD. How do we, as legislators, respond to people who are on TWA or on ValuJet, and those airlines don't have the capability of answering one million calls? How do we respond to that? Obviously you have a pretty good system in place and you readily admit, and I would have to agree that it sounds like a pretty good system.
But I also see the gentleman here from Atlanta who testified before our committee about his wife, who was also a lawyer, who went down in ValuJet and how he was notified. ValuJet couldn't answer a million calls as your airlines could, sir. And you have a good capability.
What do we say to this gentleman here who testified not more than about a month-and-a-half ago about how he was notified, or the woman who gets the call on the answering machine?
Mr. BAKER. I think that we have an industry that is made up of a small number of very large entities that are fully capable and have constructed a formal plan and know how to execute it reasonably well, not that there aren't lessons we can learn, too, because there are. But then the rest of the industry can't quite do that for sheer size considerations.
Page 94 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
I recommended to Chairman Hall yesterday that one approach might be that when a carrier gets into this business and is given a certificate of public convenience and necessity by DOT, that, one, they subscribe to a doctrine, if you will, that requires that they do certain things in the event of an accident, that they have certain responsibilities and obligations.
And, two, that perhaps they have to put into an escrow account at DOT some number of dollars per airplane in their fleet. And in the event that they were to have an accident, those monies would be used to respond.
Now, who would create this reservations capability to answer the million calls? That takes a little more research, and I'm not sure I have a good idea for that.
But the small carriers definitely can't do this job very effectively out of sheer size, and so I think we need to guarantee the American public some consistency in what to expect in these matters, and I think that's one way to do it.
Mr. LAHOOD. Is American Airlines opposed to this legislation?
Mr. BAKER. No, we are not.
Mr. LAHOOD. Would it cause either one of you a great deal of heartburn if Congress passed this legislation?
Page 95 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BAKER. No. I don't think so. I think the legislation is best targeted at a different size and style of carrier than what we already have in place, so I would like to see the legislation be optional in the sense that the carrier either provide a fully-adequate plan and demonstrate that they can execute it, or they come under all of the provisions of the bill.
Captain SOLIDAY. For United, I would say, one, that we could make this legislation work. Our issues are optimization, not opposition. And our concern is as I've expressed, and I think we can get there with very little effort.
I think the issue you raise about smaller carriers, I might just suggest to you, one thing we did at United, when we looked at our express carriers, which we do not own, we said to them, ''You have our paint. We want the plan for how you will deal with an accident.'' Their response was to contract with us for our facilities and the use of our facilities. That's one option.
I'm not certain we're offering our facilities to everyone everywhere, but I think, as one contemplates delivering that level of service, one has to think in terms of those kinds of facilities and how would one implement the act to create that.
Mr. LAHOOD. One has to be impressed with the program that both airlines have in place. No question about it. My concern is about Ms. Cox, who had to drive to New York to find out if her daughter was on the plane. That's just ridiculous, totally ridiculous, and you know it as well as I do.
Page 96 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Obviously, you folks have done your work in trying to put in place a system, and I congratulate you for that. We need to be better, though, and that's what the legislation is all about.
I also would like, Mr. Chairman, if we could, to have made part of the record the information that was presented by Mr. Baker. You know, the public doesn't understand this, but that is a good example. You brought the manifest, if that's the correct term, from the airline from the flight that you flew on. Most people don't realize that all the information is not there. And if we could make that a part of the record, I think that would be helpful, Mr. Chairman.
I do appreciate your allowing me to use your time. Thank you very much.
Mr. BAKER. Congressman, I have to urge that the passage of the bill is just the beginning. Every one of these events brings a series of changes we must make in our plan, and after each event we've had, we spend many days debriefing and reiterating our procedures and training.
The bill needs to be a living approach to the problem, because the issues change very quickly.
Dr. CLIZBE. Mr. Chairman, if I might?
Captain SOLIDAY. Just let meI'd just say, Congressman, that there are two things that cannot be emphasized enough that Mr. Baker has raised: training and practice. Training in everything that changesthe expectations change with every accident. The milieu changes with every accident. We practice four times a year. It takes over a month to build the practice session, it takes us over two weeks to debrief that practice session, and our definition of success is not that we do it perfectly but we find something new that we are not doing well.
Page 97 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. DUNCAN. Dr. Clizbe?
Dr. CLIZBE. From our point of view at the Red Cross, Mr. Chairman, one of the advantages of this legislation is that it potentially allows some of the kinds of flexibility that I think Mr. Baker was describing.
As we were indicating in our testimony, we recognize that the airlines are those with the information, and that the notification process, in terms of literally delivering that specific information, a third party like ourselves is just another step that's in the way.
But we do feel very strongly that there is a support and compassion mechanism that is valuable and needs to be in place that sometimes even may go beyond the excellent programs that the airlines are describing, where mental health professionals have an opportunity to not only deal with sort of the details of housing and transportation and the emergency needs that the airlines can handle better than we can, but we can provide assistance to the victim in the sense of, ''Well, here's kind of a third party that we can just kind of ventilate with and unload with,'' and that sort of thing. That's one value we see in the legislation in that it permits that.
A second is that it would potentially make it possible, assuming mechanisms and funding and so on were in place, for the Red Cross to share some of our experience in disaster response and those kinds of things with the airlines.
We, quite frankly, believe we know what we're doing in terms of handling disasters, and we have lots of themone right now bashing into the side of our countryso we think we have some experiences that are valuable to share, and I believe this legislation is a catalyst that would allow that sharing to occur.
Page 98 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. DUNCAN. Well, thank you very much.
Let me, before I go to Ms. Danner, just possibly or hopefully clear up what may be a little confusion.
We do havein fact, the last sentence in this legislation says, ''Nothing in this act or any amendment made by this act may be construed as limiting the actions that an air carrier may take in providing assistance to the families of passengers involved in an aircraft accident.'' So there is nothing in the legislation that would prohibit any air carrier from continuing to call passenger lists or do everything that they presently do. We're just trying to add in some additional assistance in trying to get things moving, hopefully a little more quickly than they have in the past in some of these cases.
But, Ms. Danner, we'll go to you now, please.
Ms. DANNER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
First, I want to thank the representatives of American and United Airlines for bringing to our attention and to the attention of the public some of the logistical nightmares that exist numerically.
One can look at one's own Congressional office. I had a new staffer come to me the other day and say, ''I've tried to reach this person four different times, and they simply don't answer.''
Page 99 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
I said, ''Apparently, no one has told you that when we get a phone number we also ask when an individual can be reached at that number,'' because often we will have someone say, ''Well, no, I can't be reached. This is my home number. Maybe I should have given you my work number.''
Oftentimes we have our farmers say, ''Well, I can only be reached during the noon hour when I come in.''
So sometimes one can have a phone number and not necessarily be able to reach the person immediately.
My more pertinent question, Mr. Chairman, is with regard to a question that our staff may be able to respond to.
It seems to me as though when we had a hearing several weeks ago and Hinson was present from FAA we learned of a study committee that had been formed over a year ago to study this very issue. It seems to me that if that committee has any kind of report it would be prudent to have access to that report before we finalize this legislation.
I thought the staff might know the status of that report?
Ms. DANNER. You will recall that I said to Hinson at the time that when we don't want anything to happen in Congress we put together a committee to study it. Apparently that's what has happened or not happened with that report.
Page 100 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
So if our staff would look into that and see if, indeed, that report is available, I would very much appreciate it.
I might just close in saying that I was visiting with a constituent of mine in my District, and we were talking about this very issue of notification, and he had a very personal story in that his father had been in Europe, had flown home, had phoned to say that he had made his connection in Europe and was now prepared to get on the commuter flight to fly to his home in the northeast. His wife and son then left their home to pick him up at the airport. When they got to the airport, they hadn't been there very long before they were notified that that particular plane had crashed and, of course, they were beyond belief.
They phoned home to tell their other son what had happened before the media made it apparent to him, because he had stayed home to study.
In the phone call duration, the second son began laughing, and they thought at first he was hysterical. And it turned out he was laughing because he had received a subsequent phone call from his father. It seemed that the father had another message for the family. He didn't have change in his pocket, he left to get change, and the plane left without him. He had not made his flight, even though he was on the manifest and even though he had told his family that he was making the flight.
So it can quite often happen that an individual doesn't make a flight, even when they've told their family a scant 20 or 30 minutes before that they are going to be on the flight, so it does present a very real problem, and we understand that and will certainly try to address that issue.
Page 101 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Thank you very much.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Ms. Danner.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I do want to commend both United and American on the response mechanisms you have developed and for the responses you have made, and I do think it is appropriate to note that air carriers have, indeed, made resources available to help the families of victims in the most recent cases to whatever extent was needed, no expense spared.
That's instructive for the future and for what we're about to do in this legislation.
The legislation does provide that the NTSB shall designate an independent nonprofit organization, etc., which shall have primary responsibility for coordinating the care and support of the families involved and passengers involved in the accident.
What does that mean for the role that air carriers have provided in the past? How do you envisionlet's say that entity is the Red Cross designated by NTSB. How do you envision their role in coordinating the care and support of families?
Page 102 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC As you said, Mr. Baker, I think you said you consider that to be the moral responsibility of the airline.
Mr. BAKER. Getting beyond the notification issue and the many days that follow when the families need a lot of assistance and help, we assign two people around the clock, often for many months, to be with those families, to do whatever is needed. We think that works pretty well.
That should not exclude the participation of Red Cross or any other nonprofit organization that can bring additional resources and help to the party.
I really think we can manage it together.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Let's move it to the practical situation. You have the tragedy of recent date, and on site are the air carrier and the NTSB and the Red Cross. A family member of one of the victims said, ''It was my husband. I can't pay my mortgage. I can't even use my checkbook.'' Is the Red Cross going to have the authority to direct the carrier to go and provide that relief? Is the Red Cross contact person the one to say, ''You go right ahead and make those payments and incur those obligations and the carrier will provide for you?'' Or is the Red Cross going to say, ''I'll talk to the carrier and have them do that for you''?
How is that going to work on the ground? Are we going to have a kind of a disaster walk-through session where you work those things out? That's what I'm looking at.
I don't want us to pass legislation and then find in the aftermath that we have Red Cross, NTSB, FAA, DOT, carrier, stumbling over each other and the families say, ''You made it worse than it was.''
Page 103 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. JONES. Mr. Oberstar, could I respond to that? We've had several opportunities where agencies, like train wrecks or other things have had liabilities associated, or gas explosions in Edison, New Jersey, where the person with some liabilities advanced the resources to us, gave us the guidelines on what we were allowed to advance to the family, and it worked quite well, but it was something that we worked out ahead of time, and we've done this dozens of times with agencies, so it can work.
Captain SOLIDAY. I think, sir, the important thing is that coordination takes place.
What I would answer you, with the way the legislation is written, if we had an accident immediately after it was enacted, I would do just what I do today. I would ask that my people meet the needs of the victims' families, and I would let the Red Cross know what I was doing, and if they felt it was inadequate they would tell me and we would do the right thing.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Are both the Red Cross and the carrier going to be trying to contact the family of the victim?
Captain SOLIDAY. In the past that has not been what has happened. We areour airline, we're making the contact. The role of the Red Cross, where they have been just superior, is supplying counseling services, both to our own people that are doing interaction with the families and with family members.
I would hope that, with our airline, the legislation would not be written so tightly that we could not have that kind of interaction that lets those who do a particular thing well, let them do it.
Page 104 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. OBERSTAR. Well, the last paragraph, which is something that I spent a good deal of time on with Chairman Shuster, Chairman Duncan, and Mr. Lipinski, is, ''Nothing in this act or any amendment may be construed as limiting the actions that an air carrier may take,'' but, nonetheless, if everybody's first mission is to notify the families and you have people stumbling over each other, you're going to have the plethora of phone calls to family. Somehow we've got to avoid that occurrence.
Dr. CLIZBE. We don't interpret this legislation to indicate that the American Red Cross, or what's referred to as ''the designated organization,'' is responsible for notifying. We don't interpret it that way.
There is a statement here that indicates that that information may be made available to the designated organization, but we don't read that to mean that the American Red Cross would have the responsibility for notifying.
We look to the airlines, who have the information, to carry out that notification.
Now, we would do what we typically do with or without the legislation. We would immediately get a hold of the airlines and say, ''Do you need any help? Do you have people going out there doing the notification that you would like to have a mental health professional accompany? Are you relying on local medical examiners? Do you want us to get some of our people in there?
Page 105 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC ''We have 1,500 chapters around the country. We'll be glad to get resources out there to those towns where you need our people.
''Is there any quick training needed? Have you had to recruit some people to carry out these missions that you haven't had a chance to train yet and you'd like to get our trainers in there in a hurry?''
And we would look to begin working cooperatively with the airlines.
In a similar way, the line that you referred to in terms of care and support at the bottom of page two, we had not interpretedalthough it would be interesting to know the intent, perhaps, of the committeewe had not interpreted that to mean physical care of the next-of-kin, or for example, that the designated organization was to house them or fly them in or that kind of thing.
We were presuming that that would be a responsibility undertaken by the airlines, as they do now. But it would be interesting to know whether the intent here is for an organization like the Red Cross to assume responsibility literally for the feeding and housing and transportation, for example, of the families.
We hadn't been interpreting that way, and it would be good for us to know if that was the intent.
Mr. OBERSTAR. We should not leave items vague, and I'm glad you addressed that issue. That's the purpose of my question, to try to
Page 106 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. BAKER. I would certainly interpret the bill to imply that we would retain the primary notification, that we would
Mr. OBERSTAR. Do you want it spelled out?
Mr. BAKER. It would be helpful.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Not an implication, but do you want that clarified?
Mr. BAKER. I think so. Then I think it important that we try to sit and work out a protocol as to how we're going to then react from that point forward.
For instance, I would want the Red Cross right beside me in my operations center, and they are going to become another set of arms and legs to help us deal with all the issues that come up with the families and in obtaining medical records and the hard-to-notify. Can you have a Red Cross person go see if they are at this home or that home?
It gets pretty frantic, and all the properly-trained arms and legs we can get a hold of would do a better job for the families.
I think we can create a partnership that would be very effective for the families.
Page 107 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. OBERSTAR. It might take some training to accomplish that, but that's something you could work on. You don't think you need a DOT rulemaking to structure it?
Mr. BAKER. No, sir.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you.
Captain SOLIDAY. Mr. Oberstar?
Mr. OBERSTAR. Yes.
Captain SOLIDAY. I was just going to mention that on October 16 we plan a practice exercise with the Red Cross and the State Department to try to identify some of the things in the act, how we would apply them. There is nothing like a practical application to find out.
Mr. OBERSTAR. I noted with great interest that you said you had four simulations a year in carrying out your accident response program. I think that's very commendable.
I just wanted to ask, Mr. Baker, is that green binder your accident response manual?
Mr. BAKER. This is not the corporate manual. This is only the CARE piece, and pertains only to the response team that goes to the families and so forth. We have another emergency procedures manual that covers the entire corporate waterfrontmaintenance and the flight department and corporate communications. So this is only one component. This is the training and procedures of our CARE program, itself.
Page 108 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. OBERSTAR. Are either or both of those required by Federal air regulation?
Mr. BAKER. They are not. This we initiated on our own and maintained on our own.
I was going to say, in response to your first question, I didn't need a DOT rule to create this. I don't think I need one to establish a partnership with these gentlemen.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Well, should all carriersand earlier there were distinctions being made, certainly in an exchange with Mr. LaHoodthere are distinctions among carriers. Those larger carriers, like yourselves, the major eight carriers, have the resourcessmaller ones don'tto put together this kind of accident response manual.
Should both the CARE and the entire accident response program be required by either DOT regulation or Federal Air regulation to be part of a carrier's operations specs manual?
Mr. BAKER. Mr. Oberstar, I think that's reasonable that there be standards and that there be written procedures. I think the issue is that there be standards and that there be written procedures. I think the issue is that the approval process be clean and straightforward and that these standards be understandable.
Mr. OBERSTAR. I just have to observe then, on the matter of the passenger manifest, that the Air Transportation Association, through various members in both democratic- and republican-controlled Congresses, has blocked the issuance by DOT of regulations that would have required establishment of a passenger manifest. The most recent language says that no such regulation should be issued until there are comparable regulations for foreign carriers, as well.
Page 109 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
I don't think carriers can justify that action, either on economic or other grounds, and I have been very disappointed and very distressed, frankly, by the action of the ATA. I've raised that many times privately, publicly, and with my colleague, Mr. Clinger, attempted to strike that language from the 1992 appropriation billwell, in 1992 for the fiscal year 1993 appropriation bill. We came out at the short hand68 to 348.
I would hope that airlines would agree to drop such language in the current appropriation bill that passed the Houseit's now in conference with the Senateand let this process go forward.
There is a way to level the playing field with foreign carriers. Half of Americans travel abroad on foreign airlines, and there is a way we can do this, but you aren't going to get there by simply blocking the rulemaking. It just makes it more difficult and casts a very bad light on carriers and overshadows your very good efforts in the arenas that you've just been discussing this morning.
That's just a little homily from the Chair, but a seriously-meant one.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Oberstar.
Page 110 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LIPINSKI. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
First off, I thank all you gentlemen for being here this morningnow this afternoon.
Secondly, I want to say that, Captain Soliday, you were in my office with your accident response upper echelon personnel, and you presented an outstanding program, and I gave you an ''A'' for that program and an ''A'' for the presentation that you made to me.
Mr. Baker, your team was also in the office. You weren't there, but there are a couple of people sitting behind you who were there. They made an excellent presentation about an excellent program also. I'm going to give them only an ''A-,'' and the reason I give them that is the fact that they were not in place, as far as the individuals who were in my office, as long as the United people were in place, so they had the presentation down slightly better.
But I compliment both airlines on having this program in place.
But, as I said numerous times, while American was there and while United was there, I'm not really concerned about the way American handles things and the way United handles things because I know that they do a superb job, but the American commercial aviation industry is not made up of only American and United. American and United probably wishes it was, but it is not.
There are many carriers who are flying today who are not capable of coming close to what you do. That's why they need help and assistance.
Page 111 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
I'm sure that you two could adapt to anything that we came up with. You could adapt to having the Red Cross make the initial contact, although I know the Red Cross doesn't want to do so. I'm sure you could adapt to having Department of Transportation make it, or the NTSB make it. But much of the rest of the industry isn't adaptable. That's why I think we absolutely need this legislation.
I, frankly, would like to see this legislation much stronger in a number of areas, but that's not going to occur at this particular time. I'm just hoping that we will be able to move this legislation in this session of Congress.
As far as the two air carriers, I simply want to compliment them on their program and say I appreciate the opportunity. You came into my office and talked about the program directly to me and my staff. If either one of you have anything to add to the accolades I've already bestowed upon both of you, you can do so. Since I'm from Chicago and United is from Chicago, we'll let the visitor go first, if he wants to, the man from Dallas/Ft. Worth, the man from American.
Mr. BAKER. Since my Cowboys were humbled in Chicago on Monday night, I'll accept your compliments and go back to Texas. Thank you very much.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Just like the Cowboys went back to Texas.
Page 112 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Yes?
Captain SOLIDAY. Yes, sir. We appreciate your compliments, and, again, we welcome any of the staff who would be interested in watching us practice an exercise. If there can be things to be learned that make this legislation and other legislation move more smoothly that can be learned from us, we're more than welcome to entertain.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Thank you.
Now for the Red Cross. I was hoping that you folks would be the ones to make the notification, and I was hoping that you would also be able to do so in person. That is not to be, at least not at the present time.
But let me clarify something in my mind here. The air carrier is still going to make the notification, but, according to this legislation, you are going to have the manifest very quickly; consequently, I'm assuming there will be telephone numbers that will be published where the family of victims will have an opportunity to contact you also. Is that correct?
Dr. CLIZBE. Correct.
Mr. JONES. Yes, it is.
Mr. LIPINSKI. So ifI know this wouldn't happen with United or American, but if you were trying to call for 4 or 5 hours and you wouldn't be able to get through, you could then call the Red Cross, and theoretically they would have the same information that American or United would have; is that correct?
Page 113 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Dr. CLIZBE. In fact, we, perhaps in the regulations, as contrasted with the legislation, itself, would recommend that the NTSB, or whomever is the coordinating agency here, may have the responsibility to ensure that airlines facilitate contact between the families and the designated organization if the families wish to take advantage of that.
So, for example, making certain that during the notification process the families are told, ''Here is the number of the American Red Cross,'' or whomever the agency is, ''and here's how you can get a hold of them,'' in all probability some of our people are going to be in touch with them anyway.
If this legislation passes and we work out the relationships with the airlines, then after the notification has occurred, in the local area we will begin to try to get in touch with them to sort of say, ''Can we help? Is there any support we can provide to you?''
Mr. LIPINSKI. Are you busy trying to work out how the financial arrangement is going to be handled in regards to this situation, because I know that you have concerns about it?
Dr. CLIZBE. Yes.
Mr. LIPINSKI. I think that it's very important that, before this is fully implemented, that that all be worked out. These two airlines sitting at the table with you, you won't have any problem collecting anything from. They have very deep pockets.
Page 114 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Dr. CLIZBE. That's very nice to know.
Mr. LIPINSKI. But there may be a few carriers that you better make sure that you have it worked out very clearly beforehand in regards to any reimbursement that you're going to need.
Are you working on that?
Mr. JONES. We definitely look forward to sitting down with the airlines and developing a set of realistic procedures that will ensure successful response and certainly reimbursement of any additional things that we do above and beyond what we presently do. We would work that out, and that would be part of the discussion, surely. However, the majority of our costs may be in the form of pre-accident planning and preparation activities.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Do you have any idea how the cost reimbursement will be implemented at the present time?
Mr. JONES. Basically, in other disasters that we've incurred where organization have had liabilities, we have presented documentation of the costs associated with the support to the families, and we have had no controversy with the agencies that we submitted the billing tosomething that they could use that would pass auditing and everything within their organization. So that had not been a problem in the past.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Do either one of you want to say anything further with regards to this situation?
Page 115 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. JONES. I would just like to again express our appreciation for the opportunity to appear before this committee. We are certainly supportive of the legislation and certainly the roles. If we happen to be the agency designated, if that occursand certainly we feel that we will have some technical expertise to offer, and we look forward to working with the airlines and anyone designated as a lead agency to coordinate the overall operation.
So we are very optimistic about it and want to personally express our thanks to this committee for the interest they are showing and the progress they are making in this effort.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Thank you.
I want to go back to my two friends over hereAmerican and United. I want to issue a challenge to you.
We have all this trouble in regards to the manifest and the delay in being able to notify people because you don't know how accurate that manifest is. The two airlines that you represent could come up with a system that would be 99 percent perfect if you really wanted to do so. It could be done.
When you're getting on the plane, instead of showing my I.D. card at the counter, I'd have to show my I.D. card as I got onto the jetway. There is a card that you could have people fill outname, address, phone number, next-of-kinand if they refuse to fill it out, they don't get on your plane.
Page 116 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Those are just some suggestions.
But you two could do it, and if you two did it, the rest of the industry would definitely follow suit, but it's got to be both of you doing it. You have to work together. If one did ityou know the competition between you. You know how big you two are. You'd have to do it together, but you could do it. It can be done.
Mr. BAKER. Congressman, I would only add to that. First, I agree, but I would add to that that there are two big changes out in front of us that may yield the opportunity to do that job properly.
The first is that it appears that we are going to have to iterate airline security in some way or another. How all that's going to sort out, I don't know yet, but that may provide the opportunity to deal with the issue.
Secondly, larger carriersAmerican and Unitedare actively pursuing a thing called ''electronic ticketing.'' That, itself, where we get rid of the paper tickets and do everything electronically, may give us a degree of accuracy we don't today enjoy.
So as those two things evolve over the next several weeks and months, I think we may see some opportunity to do a better job here.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Will the gentleman yield?
Page 117 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LIPINSKI. Yes, Mr. Oberstar.
Mr. OBERSTAR. I had intended on a subsequent round of questioning to raise the issue of ticketless operations, but also the question: couldn't there be a common form worked out for all carriers with the information necessary for accurate notification of next-of-kin so that, in advance of passenger boarding, whether that passenger actually boards or not, all carriers have the information and it's provided in the same way, the same type of information, so that, in the event of a tragedy, the passenger manifest information would have all the necessary information for notification?
Could that be something worked out among the carriers? And couldn't it also be done in such a way that American does not have to reveal to United, in the case of an interline passenger, all of its Sabre frequent flyer information that could be used commercially by United, and vice versa?
Captain SOLIDAY. Yes, sir. All of that is possible. I see a couple barriers that need to be overcome.
The first one is that so many of our tickets are sold by our partners in travel, the travel agents. We've got to get them on board to fill out that information. The terminal is not the best place to do that. But, again, there are few things that we cannot overcome.
The other issue is one near and dear to my heart when I put on my security hat, and not only for that area but for this one. There is a small segment of our population who deliberately lie to us about who they are. I think it would be very helpful if that carried a penalty.
Page 118 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. OBERSTAR. And would you need antitrust coverage to engage in such discussions, or would simply the cover of DOT convening such a meeting or FAA convening such a meeting be sufficient?
Captain SOLIDAY. I believe that if we did it under the auspices of safety, we probably could have the discussion, but I think we're clearly into the gray because there are competitive issues.
Mr. OBERSTAR. I thank the gentleman.
Mr. LIPINSKI. I had another brilliant question, but, unfortunately, it flew right out of my mind in the last 20 seconds.
Mr. Chairman, I yield my time that I don't have left back to you.
Mr. DUNCAN. Well, thank you very much, Mr. Lipinski.
Gentlemen, let me say this. We're going to mark up this legislation in subcommittee next Wednesday and in full committee next Thursday, but in between now and then if you have some suggestions for things that you might want in this legislation or things that you want taken out, get those to the staff and we'll take a look at them and consider those, because I'm sure that there will be an amendment offered in the nature of a substitute.
This was the purpose of this hearingto learn what corrections needed to be made in the legislation or improvements that can be made.
Page 119 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
I'm a little curious, Captain Soliday. Did you ever analyze who those 40,000 calls were from in 24 hours? Is that a
Captain SOLIDAY. We received calls
Mr. DUNCAN. That seems like a phenomenal amount of calls, number of calls.
Captain SOLIDAY. Mr. Chairman, we have people who call and say, ''I haven't seen my brother in a year or two. I know he travels a lot. Was he on the airplane?'' That call deserves a response just like any other one, and you would be amazed at the number of calls like that. It's not just immediate family members. It's cousins, it's friends. ''My neighbor down the street travels a great deal.''
To set a quality standard, you've got to deal with all 40,000 calls.
Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. Coble mentioned and Chairman Hall said that he thought it was a most common-sense suggestion of the day to have some sort of language in there about having people provide phone numbersup-to-date phone numbers. I believe it was Mr. Baker mentioned that.
Some airlines seem to be hesitant about that, or reluctant, or they feel that they really don't want to have to ask for that. Do you feel it would be helpful if we had a Federal requirement that people had to submit that?
Page 120 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. BAKER. Absolutely. It does represent some cost consideration of additional talk time over the phone and reservations when the transaction is initially booked, and then some computer costs to store it, so there are some dollars involved.
But if you've ever tried to reconcile one of these trips, you'd sure want to have those numbers.
As I showed you on the flight I came up here on, getting the travel agent's phone number when you're trying to get a hold of someone on a Saturday night is not very helpful.
Mr. DUNCAN. Let me ask one last, brief question.
You know that one of the major problems in these tragedies has been the identification of remains of the victims. Do any of you have any suggestions as to how that procedure might be improved or made quicker?
Captain SOLIDAY. Mr. Chairman, I think I'm glad you asked that question, because there are two really stressful events in family members' experience after an accident. One is being notified that their loved one may have been on board; the other is that that person has passed away. That is solely in the hands of the coroner.
The coroners that we have dealt with, believe me, have done their very best, but very, very few are prepared for the magnitude of an air crash.
Page 121 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
I think there is room for consideration to find rulemaking that would allow entities like the military, who have the training and airborne capability to respond quickly to identify remains, to have a large amount of support there to get on with the task. Sometimes thosethe quickest time I've ever seen is 4 days. Sometimes it goes on for weeks and months.
I think those resources are there, but because jurisdiction rests with the coroner it takes him a while to size the problem and then request additional help. Sometimes that time to size the problem is 24 hours, and in that time you could have the military there.
I think that area needs exploration.
Mr. DUNCAN. Dr. Clizbe?
Dr. CLIZBE. One of the references in the legislation is to the designated organization keeping in touch with the families thereafter until such time the organization determines no further assistance is necessary.
I think one of the important dimensions in what you were just describing is an organization like the Red Cross linking the family members back to resources in their own community.
One of the things we've experienced is that the family members often, while waiting for identification to occur, perhaps stay at the scene or in the immediate area beyond the time that it may even be in their best interest to do so or that they need to, but part of the problem is they don't have the support mechanisms back home.
Page 122 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
And so I think implied, I think it's very interestingly written as it is, because I think implied in here is the need to help people link into their community back home, and that may soften the blow of the second notification that you're talking about.
Mr. DUNCAN. All right. Mr. Baker?
Mr. BAKER. I think we have quite a challenge there that perhaps the legislation could be helpful in perhaps providing some guidelines to local coroners who get involved in how to proceed.
A good example is the accident we had with our American Eagle in northern Indiana. The fellow in charge of that process had never seen such a challenge, and in northern Indiana he couldn't muster the numbers of people to get the job done efficiently.
With some urging, we finally persuaded him that he ought to bring in the Armed Forces, Institute of Pathology from Walter Reed. Those folks do this routinely. They know how to do large, massive operations of this type, and they have the most up-to-date technology to make identifications.
So we've had very good luck in that direction and would urge that that be urged upon the local coroners whenever they are involved with one of these.
Mr. DUNCAN. All right. Well, thank you very much, gentlemen, for this most helpful testimony.
Page 123 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
That will conclude the hearing.
[Mr. Clyburn's prepared statement follows:]
[Whereupon, at 12:53 p.m., the subcommittee was adjourned, to reconvene at the call of the Chair.]