A nation in mourning

A one-day national mourning was observed yesterday after a private airline’s plane crashed in the Margalla Hills on Wednesday morning. There were 152 people on board, including the crew. Unfortunately, no one survived. This has been the biggest aviation tragedy in Pakistan’s history. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families who have lost their loved ones in the crash. The whole nation mourns their loss and feels their pain. According to some reports, the bad weather conditions and poor visibility could have been the reason for the crash. Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that the pilot was given directions to land. “The plane was at 2,600 feet before landing but suddenly it went to 3,000 feet, which was unexplained,” he said. Why the pilot chose to abort the landing and instead kept circling around and then going off towards the no-fly zone is something that cannot be explained without a proper investigation. The real reasons for the plane crash will not be known for sure until the black box is recovered. Initially there were reports that the black box had been found but apparently it was a “box-like something”. This indicates that it would be better if everyone exercises restraint rather than indulge in speculation until the inquiry is complete, as it would only lead to further confusion.

The media’s role needs to be looked at critically. In a race for ratings, we saw new lows in the way the electronic media covered the tragic event. There were reporters who boasted of removing ID cards from the dead passengers’ bodies, which in itself is a criminal act because only the authorities in charge of the rescue operation can remove anything from the scene. Not only was it criminal but downright unethical on the part of these journalists. They had no business removing things from the site. The way some channels had an animation of a crashing plane was disgusting to say the least. It seemed as if there was no editorial control over the way reporters went up to the families of the victims for a sound-byte. The bereaved families were already going through a tough time not knowing if their loved ones were alive or not after the interior minister and some media channels talked about ‘survivors’. It was extremely irresponsible of the government officials to give false hope to the families. In other countries when a tragedy like this occurs, we see how measured, cautious and responsible the remarks of officials are.

Another thing that was missing was the response of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). Granted that even if we had the best disaster management system in place, the hilly and wooded terrain made it an inherently difficult operation, especially with the rain and bad light, but the response was not what it should have been. Be it the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the private airline or the government, the culture of mismanagement was evident everywhere.

One thing that we saw was how good the people’s response was towards the tragedy: that of helping their fellow human beings. Many volunteers helped the rescue workers even though it was very difficult to reach the area. But the concerned authorities need to revamp their systems and learn from their mistakes and inadequacies. Declaring a national mourning day is merely tokenism and not enough unless we learn from experience and always be prepared for a calamity, natural or otherwise.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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