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Editorial:Get to the truth behind plane crash

While the cause of Sunday's disaster is unclear, improved public safety for all can prevent or mitigate major accidents in the future

Published on September 18, 2007

The actual cause of the crash of a budget commercial airliner in Phuket on Sunday, in which some 89 passengers were killed, will not be known until aviation authorities have analysed crucial data stored in the plane's black boxes and concluded their investigation into all parties involved, which could take weeks or months. The priority now is for the operator of One-Two-Go Airlines and the Thai government to provide the best medical treatment possible to the scores of injured survivors and full assistance to bereaved relatives by ensuring the timely identification of the bodies of those who perished in Thailand's worst air disaster in a decade.

Transportation must be arranged for the bodies of deceased foreigners to be repatriated to their home countries and for those of Thai citizens to be returned to their home provinces. After grieving families have performed their funeral rites to remember and honour their loved ones, Orient Thai Airlines, the operator of the low-cost carrier One-Two-Go, and its insurers must make appropriate offers of compensation to injured passengers as well as the families of those who died in the crash without delay.

Once the needs of the crash victims and their families have been attended to, authorities should then focus on finding out whether human error, mechanical failure, forces of nature or a combination of these factors contributed to the tragic accident.

The idea is to determine the facts of what actually happened so that the right lessons can be learned if not to prevent, then to minimise the possibility of the same tragedy happening again.

Investigators must look into all aspects of One-Two-Go's operations in order to determine whether the company has properly adhered to all required standards concerning the airworthiness of its aircraft, the competence of its pilots and crew members, aircraft maintenance, and all other air-safety standards. A question that also needs to be asked is whether Orient-Thai Airlines has the kind of corporate culture that attaches great importance to passenger and operational safety.

Even disturbing, unconfirmed reports that suggest some of the smaller low-cost airlines tend to cut corners in aircraft maintenance or safety measures to keep costs low and maximise profits should not be overlooked by Thai aviation investigators, who must be allowed to conduct their work without fear or favour.

The public also has the right to know if regulatory agencies have been doing their jobs in a straightforward manner to ensure full compliance with rules and regulations.

People are also anxious to find out whether air-traffic controllers and airport emergency-response teams were performing their duties as they should have been on the day of the crash and whether they did their utmost to help as many victims as possible escape death and injury. For example, several survivors told reporters that it took emergency-response teams, such as fire-trucks and ambulances, too long to arrive on the scene to conduct a search and rescue operation and take injured passengers to hospital.

Anyone found at fault for incompetence or criminal negligence contributing to what looked like a preventable air accident in Phuket on Sunday should be disciplined or prosecuted for their wrongdoings if only to serve as an example to others in the aviation industry.

At a time like this, it was callous for some government leaders to talk about the possible negative impact the crash will have on Thailand's tourism industry just because many of the victims were foreign tourists. Thai society must learn that it matters little whether the victims of such a disaster are foreign or Thai. If government authorities and the Thai public refrained from being too obsessed with tourism dollars and began treating all lives as precious, and put in place measures to improve public safety, Thailand would become a better place for Thais to live and for foreigners to visit.

There is no way the government can make a distinction between improving tourists' safety without upgrading overall public safety, because these days tourists and locals are so intermingled as to be inseparable. Apparently, what is keeping the government from improving overall public safety in this country is self-contempt and the lower value it puts on local people's lives.

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