May 22, 2010
It has been a year since flight 812–the Air India Express Dubai-Mangalore flight that took on 166 passengers, and only delivered 8 of them alive. The rest died when the plane landed too far down the runway, and continued over the edge of a gorge. That leaves us 8 live victims who will forever remember the trauma; and 158 deceased victims who will not, but whose passing will forever leave a black hole of absence.
Lawsuits may talk of justice, and toss around terms like economic losses; Lawyers may talk about compensation; airlines and insurers may dangle various sums of money over the families heads. But nothing anyone will do will make these families right again.
The families have to suffer the loss of their loved ones from now through eternity. And to balance that, courts offer compensation. Instead of local laws protecting their citizens, in compensation cases, the required amount to pay for a decedent in some cases could be less than any treaty. A number is slapped on each victim, as if the numeric value is that person. And sometimes, because of the way values are computed, the numbers are insulting. They’re based on earning power–In the Mangalore crash, it is a mere 35 lakhs for a non-working woman. (Roughly 75,100, U.S.). An insulting lump sum to give for a life, when currently, every person who dies in an air crash on any international flight is (technically) entitled to a final compensation of $ 1,76,000 SDRs* according to the international guidelines, the Montreal Convention.
I want justice for the families, if there is such a thing. I want fair compensation, if there is such a thing. I want that compensation to provide an umbrella of coverage to be enough so they can at least be comfortable while their psyches have a chance to adjust. Even knowing that money does not staunch the wound, nor will it bring healing, (only time does that), I am still aware that it is a tangible something that we can do for the families who will have to go on, not only minus breadwinners, but minus joy.
These families have lost the light in their lives. There is no hundred watt lightbulb they can plug in that will chase the shadows; no incandescent or florescent fixture that can be switched on to bring normal back. In spite of whatever check that will be written, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children, spouses–all will still have disappeared into that black hole of absence. The families will have to learn to scrabble through, and hang on until they find a new normal. But if I have a chance to make their lives better, to help them find a settlement that will at least allow them to lead physically comfortable lives, I will. That is what I do.
I am a lucky man. I come home to an intact family, a wife and grown children; and we all have our lives to look back on and to look forward to, our holidays, like this recent Easter. Our lives to live, with no darkness, and with our joy intact. I tell myself that I appreciate what I have, that I appreciate everything that makes my life what it is, but it never feels as true as when I look at the calendar and see this day.
*Standard Drawing Rates-The SDR (Special Drawing Right) is an artificial “basket” currency used by the IMF (International Monetary Fund) for internal accounting purposes. The SDR is also used by some countries as a peg for their own currency, and is used as an international reserve asset.To calculate the value of the SDR in national currency (say, ABC), multiply the four exchange rates of the home country vis-à-vis the basket-currency countries (i.e., ABC/USD, ABC/EUR, ABC/JPY, and ABC/GBP) with the basket values indicated in the above table. Add these four numbers together to obtain the ABC/SDR exchange rate.