Family assistance is the provision of services and information to address the concerns and the needs of the aircraft accident victims and their families. International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) family assistance plans ensure that the mental, physical and spiritual well-being of victims involved in civil aviation accidents and their families is ensured to help their long-term recovery.
ICAO Doc 9998 Aircraft Accident Victim Assistance Policy and its Families and Doc 9973, Manual on Assistance to Victims of Air Accidents and their Families, define concepts relating to family assistance.
A plane crash is an unexpected and generally catastrophic event. Concern for people who have suffered distress and loss due to a plane crash has led to increased effort within the aviation industry to establish procedures to address the needs of victims and their families in a timely manner. Measures taken in response to an accident are crucial, not only in terms of emergency planning, but also from a consolidated family assistance perspective. Regardless of the magnitude of an accident, victims and their families must receive adequate assistance.
Assistance programmes require cooperative planning and response by the aircraft operator, airport operator, the State of occurrence, non-governmental organisations and specialized commercial enterprises. Due to variations in the size and circumstances of air accidents, the scope of resources needed to provide family assistance will vary considerably.
It is therefore necessary to plan these events to ensure that, in the event of a serious air accident, the assistance provided to victims and their families is adequate and sufficient.
Background and Development
During its 32nd Session in October 1998, the ICAO Assembly considered the subject of assistance to aircraft accident victims and their families and adopted Resolution A32-7, which stated, among other things, that “the policy of ICAO should be to ensure that the mental, physical and spiritual well-being of victims involved in civil aviation accidents and their families are considered and accommodated by ICAO and its Contracting States.” Resolution A32-7 also said that “it is essential that support be provided to family members of victims of civil aviation accidents, wherever the accident may occur, and any lessons learnt from support providers, including effective procedures and policies, be promptly disseminated to other Contracting States and ICAO to improve States’ family support operations.”
In 2001, in response to Resolution A32-7, ICAO issued Circular 285 Guidance on Assistance to Victims of Air Accidents and their Families, as the first step for many to take with regard to family assistance planning.
Moreover, in ICAO Annex 13, Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation, it was strengthened to a standard the entitlement of States to appoint experts to visit States where the accident has occurred, have access to the relevant factual information on the progress of the investigation and receive a copy of the final report by the State conducting investigation.
In 2005 provisions to enable expeditious entry of family members of the victims into the State in which the accident has occurred were inserted in ICAO Annex 9, Facilitation.
During ICAO Assemblies 39 and 40, ICAO reaffirmed its commitment to family assistance subject urging and encouraging States that have legislation, regulations and/or policies to support civil aviation accident victims and their families to review these documents in consideration of the ICAO policy in Doc 9998 and of the guidance material in Doc 9973.
Family Assistance Plan Content
The provision of family assistance requires the commitment of resources in different sectors and, consequently, the organization of specific activities aimed at meeting the following needs:
- Information about the event: location of the accident, list of passengers boarded, survivors, etc.;
- Information about the emergency response to the rescue service accident, such as health care providers and firefighters;
- Call centre organized by airlines in order to receive inquiries from families;
- Dedicated safe places where victims and their families can be housed, as well as cared for at the airport and family assistance centre provided by the airline;
- Coordination of travel and stays in a family assistance centre, as well as assistance to those who do not travel;
- Information on the location and status of victims, recovery, identification and disposal of remains;
- Information regarding the recovery, management and return of personal effects;
- Social, emotional and psychological support;
- Information on the progress of the investigation and its objective, possibly in all languages spoken by victims and their families;
- Coordination of visits to the crash site, where access is feasible; and
- Support for immediate financial needs, in accordance with Article 21 of the Montreal Convention
Another important mean of support for later stages, is to help and encourage the creation of a monument or place in honor and remembrance of the victims.
As a plane crash also has a strong emotional impact on all people involved in assistance, a portion of the family assistance plan should be devoted to the specific training of staff committed to this task, in order to strengthen the resilience of operators.
The family care plan should be evaluated and reviewed with the help of local organisations and operators (i.e., civil protection, rescue services, hospitals, etc.).
- ICAO Doc 9998, ICAO Policy on Assistance to Aircraft Accident Victims and their Families
- ICAO Doc 9973, Manual on Assistance to Aircraft Accident Victims and their Families
- Federal Family Assistance Plan for Aviation Disasters, NTSB, December 2008
- NTSB Family Assistance Resources Library
- United States: Lawyer Assistance Families Aircrash Aviation – 1996.
- European Union: Regulation 996/2010 on the investigation and prevention of accidents and incidents in civil aviation
- Spain: Lawyer Rd/632/2013 Assistance To Victims And Their Families, August 2013
- ITALY: GEN-05 ENAC - Assistance To Victims Of Air Accidents And Their Families (Italian CAA) Circular Consultative, August 2014