What others say: Processing disaster

  • Tuesday, July 14, 2015 5:21pm
  • Opinion

When tragedy strikes, as it did June 25 in Ketchikan, the community feels it deeply.

Nine people died in a floatplane crash that day while returning from a visit to Misty Fiords National Monument. No one survived. The crash occurred on one of the few days with clouds and squalls since the start of the tourist season.

Visitors — most of them coming to town aboard the massive cruise ships — fly out to Misty Fiords day in and day out through the months of May to September.

Ketchikan goes all out to welcome and entertain its guests; it’s what hosts want to do. This year it has been easier because of the tremendous stretch of sunshine and clear skies — unlike many other summers for a community in the Tongass National (rain) Forest.

As host, Ketchikan tries to give each visitor the Alaska experience they’re seeking, and many folks not connected directly to the flightseeing and other tours take time when they’re walking down the street to stop and talk with the tourists. Business people, often those in the shopping areas, also make time to converse, learning tidbits about the ones eager to chat or sharing their own tidbits with the vacationers.

Ketchikan is a friendly town.

But sometimes in life, experiences don’t turn out as hoped. Such was the case with the June crash.

As an island community, Ketchikan is accessible only by boat and aircraft. Ketchikan is used to flying as much as it is boating and driving, although the driving opportunity is limited both to the north and the south by 17 to 20 miles each way. So to visit Misty Fiords, it must be by boat or plane.

And in a community significantly dependent on flight and marine vessels, transportation accidents are a possibility. Ketchikan has experienced plane crashes before — all equally devastating.

Each time, it is with a heavy heart that the town learns the facts and begins to take care of those most closely affected.

The primary concern is for families of those who died, the injured when there are some and the floatplane company staff that had been hosting the visitors. The accident jolts those to their depths, and because of the relationship that was developing between all of the parties, it is especially difficult.

Nothing can be said to make anyone feel better. A full range of emotions occurs. The situation requires sensitivity, particularly that of onlookers.

Other flightseeing businesses generally won’t talk about or speculate out of professional respect for their colleagues. While the community will discuss what happened, most people are cautious not to say anything that would hurt anyone closely involved, recognizing that speculation before a final investigative report is simply that, speculation.

But there are effects for the victims’ families, recovering crash survivors and the community. All skip a beat, and a beat after that and another beat. Recovery following death or injury isn’t overnight whether it’s sunny the next day and planes return to the sky or not.

For families, there can be a longtime loss, which is very challenging to endure. A relationship ended abruptly and tragically; that isn’t easy to deal with. In cases of injury, that changes lives, too.

For the flightseeing companies that experience crashes, they face the death or injury of one of their own. They and their employees also can face devastating effects to the company itself.

The loss in a plane crash isn’t without serious repercussions. Being affected by it, Ketchikan — often to the person here — is all too aware.

It isn’t just another day in Ketchikan after a tragic event.

— Ketchikan Daily News, July 11

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