A close friend wrote a series of booklets with practical guidelines for managers in various topics. One of these is very applicable to Flight MH17: Safety Management and Incident Handling. Although orientated on factories and manufacturing, there is a list of questions recommended for safety incidents which are very valid for this case:
- What was done to prevent this incident?
- What will be changed since the prevention was not effective?
- How was the incident handled after it occurred?
All in charge of the different authorities involved should work according to these points and set priorities accordingly.
What was done to prevent this incident?
Obviously not enough. The easiest and unfortunately fully failed prevention of the cowardice attack on Flight MH17 would have (and should have) been to close all airspace over the conflict zone for all commercial flights. An initiative that should have been taken by Ukraine, especially since it has lost many military airplanes over the conflict zone at various flight levels. In addition, the airlines themselves could have taken the decision to avoid the conflict zone after Ukraine’s refusal to close the airspace. Some airlines did, unfortunately Malaysian Air and Air France-KLM didn’t.
What makes this failure even worse is that apparently Ukrainian airlines had already stopped using the corridors over the war zone and instead started using the northern corridor towards Russia and the southern corridor over Odessa and the Black Sea towards South East Asia and the Arabian Peninsula. Should there have been an Ukrainian flight to Malaysia, it would not have flown over Donetsk!
What will be changed since the prevention was not effective?
All standing procedures were kept except for the proper classification of the safety risk. Nevertheless, the attack on Flight MH17 was not prevented and as a result 298 innocent civilians lost their lives. Parties which could have prevented this are waving off any claims with a rule book which obviously doesn’t provide a set of rules to prevent this. Countries in conflicts can apparently play down the risks and airlines are apparently free to decide to fly over a war zone in which aircraft are being shutdown almost on a daily bases.
The DSB might come up with recommendations to prevent this in the future and create rules and controls to formalize this. Boards will meet, experts will work for or against this, all consuming valuable time. How desperately these changes are needed is best demonstrated by the fact that commercial flights still use Iraqi airspace in the middle of an ongoing military operations which includes daily missions by fighter jets.
How was the incident handled after it occurred?
Disastrous is the only word which describes this! The press and social media flooded with unsubstantiated accusations and stories, governments jumping to conclusions and mixing politics with a collective agenda in the ongoing conflict. Non disclosure agreement with Ukraine without evaluating the possibility that Ukraine is a prime suspect with the means to execute this attack and has done so before.
Fabricated paperwork and safety considerations which were immediately forgotten the moment the teams finally arrived at the crash site kept the repatriation and investigation team in Kiev for days after it had already taken days to negotiate permission to do their work. Moving front line through the crash site, ongoing fighting in the midst of an ignored ceasefire on and around the crash site. None of this delivers the message “please repatriate the victims and investigate the crash site thoroughly”.
Throughout this all, the families and friends of the victims see all this happening, spread widely in all kinds of spins in the press and social media. What was once that person they loved is now the subject of speculations, political games, displays of support and confidentiality with a prime suspect, and worse of all: lies and fabricated information with the sole purpose of getting attention or selling copies.
As so many times before in history, common people displayed the only dignity and feelings. The local emergency services treated the victims with high respect and worked around the clock for days in the middle of a war zone to allow the victims to return home to their loved ones for a final goodbye. Local population placed flowers and candles were placed all over the crash site. The repatriation and investigation team was helped and supported without even asking. People guarded the crash side to make sure nothing was stolen, others carried belongings to central storage to achieve the same.
People caught in a conflict, not knowing which side of the front line they will wake up tomorrow, if they wake up tomorrow, showed the world what respect and dignity means. If all the politicians who caused this conflict and thereby share the responsibility for Flight MH17, would have a grain of the human values these people have, none of this would have happened!
You can not start a fire and afterwards discuss if the fire extinguisher of the neighbor was of the right type. The wrong in this is not just the failing regulations which allowed Ukraine to keep the airspace open. The wrong in this is first and foremost the failing politics for decades which pushed Ukraine into a conflict with devastating consequences. That is a crime against humanity which reached its shameful height in the attack on MH17!
This concludes my thoughts on Flight MH17 for now, until new information emerges. Meanwhile I recommend to read “De doofpotdeal” by Joost Niemoller (Twitter @JoostNiemoller), let your local politicians know that this is not something that should be swept under the carpet and be open minded about information that doesn’t match the common narrative, whichever that may be.