Help reaches families of weekend air crash

BY SUSAN KIM | Providence, RI | November 1, 1999


As hope is extinguished for finding survivors of Egyptair Flight 990, response organizations are on-site to help victims' grieving

families.

Loved ones have gathered to identify the 217 lost passengers, trying to comfort each other and themselves as search crews offer

no good news.

The children among the gathered families will have special child care services offered by Church of the Brethren (COB) staff

through an agreement with the American Red Cross. The Red Cross is offering grief counseling to families.

Specially trained COB staff traveled to Rhode Island early Monday. "We will provide tender loving care for these children," said

Jane Yount, who added that she did not yet know how many children were present.

The child care service, which also responded to this year's plane crash in Arkansas, is fairly new among faith-based responses to

plane crashes. More longstanding is the Salvation Army's response of providing meals to emergency response teams at the

crash site.

"Our disaster services called the National Transportation Safety Board and the Coast Guard to offer services," said Salvation

Army spokesperson Michael Fetcho, who added that teams are still on standby but ready to go.

"Even if it's just offering hot coffee and blankets, we are usually involved in these situations," he said. "We can also offer spiritual

grief counseling because people on these teams are all ordained ministers. This fits into our mission of offering hope to the

hopeless."

The new COB child care effort may lead to more organized faith-based efforts in future disasters such as plane crashes.

Traditionally the faith community's disaster response has focused more on natural disasters and long-term recovery.

"Through the Church of the Brethren experience, we could get a glimpse of what a future response might look like," said Stan

Hankins, associate for disaster response with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.

Part of the challenge for putting a faith-based response into place is rapid communication with emergency personnel and crash

investigation teams. "These situations are pretty tightly controlled," said Hankins.

Unlike a natural disaster, there are usually plenty of resources -- the primary need for families is counseling and other survivor

assistance efforts -- so "it's more of a matter of getting things organized," he added.

Although no evidence of terrorism has been found associated with the Flight 990 crash, in the future the faith community could

look at dispatching teams it has already trained to respond to terrorism incidents for crashes like this, he added.

Also on hand at the site are chaplains who help debrief emergency response personnel. "After awhile you will freeze up if you

don't talk to someone," said Lisa Van Clief, public affairs officer for the Civil Air Patrol, which was involved in search and rescue

for the July 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800 and of John F. Kennedy Jr.'s plane in July of this year.

"Chaplains are there to provide an interfaith approach and someone to talk with."

Van Clief added that search and rescue personnel aim to do the same job whether there are speculations about terrorism or not.

"We treat everyone the same," she said. "You want to try to find them alive -- period."

Flight 990 plunged suddenly into the waters off Massachusetts early Sunday, and immediately a search commenced off of

Nantucket Island. Relatives gathering in Providence, R.I. are being asked to bring with them medical records and photos to help

identify loved ones.

Some Nantucket residents have also been walking the beaches in search of debris, though officials say they don't expect debris

to wash up there, since currents are keeping items up to 50 miles offshore. Among remnants found by search crews on Monday

were included partially inflated life rafts and jackets, passports, seat cushions and other small debris.

Investigators think the plane dropped 14,000 feet in half a minute. But so far there is no evidence of burn marks that would

indicate a fire or explosion aboard, and there have been no terrorist groups publicly claiming responsibility.

Of the 217 people thought to be on board, two U.S.-based tour groups accounted for some 60 of the passengers. The tours were

adult and senior citizen groups who had planned to tour the Nile River.

Two infants were also among the passengers aboard.


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