Monday 20 February is International Day Commemorating Air Crash Victims and Their Families. The day has been designated by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), an agency that promotes the safe development of civil aviation around the world.
Established in 2022, the commemorative day has been created in cooperation with the Air Crash Victims’ Families’ Federation International (ACVFFI). It is the first day set aside in honour of those who have lost their lives in air disasters and their families and provide assistance to survivors of aviation accidents, and it aims to:
- Remember the victims
- Support survivors and the bereaved families
- Seek better post-crash responses
- Make aviation safer.
ICAO has been at the forefront of aviation safety and the development of air transport into the safe system it is today. However, many of the safety features we enjoy that make us feel safe when we travel come from air disasters over the years.
By adopting standards and recommending practices for national governments to implement, ICAO recognises the importance of providing timely and comprehensive information, care and resources to accident victims and their loved ones in post-accident circumstances.
ICAO: what do they do for the victims and their families?
ICAO’s concern over family assistance dates back several decades to 1976, with the inclusion of a recommended practice in Annex 13 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation (known as the Chicago Convention 1944). This provides that countries whose citizens are involved in an air accident are granted access to information about the investigation and can play a direct role in identifying their citizens. Since that time and predominantly through the ICAO Assembly, this has strengthened.
In 1998, during the 32nd ICAO Assembly, the subject of assistance to aircraft accident victims and their families was considered. The first guidance on this subject, the ICAO’s ‘Policy on Assistance to Aircraft Accident Victims and their Families’, was issued in 2001 and again in 2013.
Some of the provisions the guidance provides for victims and their families are:
- Providing an emergency response to the accident
- Providing families with information about the occurrence
- Providing coordination of travel to and lodging at a family assistance centre as well as assistance to those not travelling
- Information about the location and status of the victims, and
- The recovery, identification and repatriation of victims, and social, emotional and psychological support.
In 2021, ICAO convened its first International Symposium on Assistance to Aircraft Accident Victims and Their Families. This allowed participants to share best practices and lessons learned to support the development of family assistance programmes. Sarah Stewart, a partner in Stewarts’ aviation team, participated as a guest speaker at this event, which provided an important platform to enhance global cooperation towards this objective.
Concern for people who have suffered distress and loss due to a plane crash has led to increased efforts within the aviation industry to establish procedures to address the needs of victims and their families promptly. Measures taken in response to an accident are crucial, not only in terms of emergency planning but also from a consolidated family assistance perspective.
ICAO recommends that countries establish legislation, regulations and policies addressing family assistance plans to ensure that family assistance providers have the necessary financial, personnel and equipment resources. It also recommends that systems are available at short notice to assist aircraft accident victims and their families.
The ICAO Council recommend that a functioning family assistance plan should consider the recipients of family assistance, types of family assistance to be provided, when this assistance should be provided, and a periodic review so that the family plan can be properly executed in the event of a serious air accident.
The importance of 20 February
Monday, 20 February 2023, marks only the second anniversary of International Day Commemorating Air Crash Victims and Their Families. It is an anniversary that is not commonly known to many people. We must use this day to remember all those who have lost their lives and loved ones and to come together and push for more comprehensive legislation, regulations and policies that better support victims and their loved ones.
On this day, our thoughts are with all those who have been affected. Together we can make aviation safer.
Paralegal Jake Avdiyovski contributed to this article.
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