In her last public talk as National Transportation Safety Board chairman on April 21, Deborah Hersman made a final pitch at the National Press Club for child safety restraints in commercial aircraft. The NTSB has been trying to convince the FAA to mandate the equipment for several decades, and Hersman used the 1979 crash of United Airlines Flight 232 in Sioux City, Iowa, to make her point. Although the accident claimed 111 lives, another 185 people on board survived. A number of small children were among the passengers that day.
“As the passengers and cabin crew waited for the brace signal aboard that flight,” she said, “a senior flight attendant reminded parents to buffer their babies by wrapping them in towels and blankets, and bracing them on the floor with their hands and legs.” Hersman said that no matter how hard they tried, though, passengers could not hold on to those children.
“In the aftermath of the crash, Lori and Mark Michaelson could not find their 11-month-old daughter, Sabrina, and had to decide whether to escort their four- and six-year-old sons out of the aircraft to safety, or to stay, to look for Sabrina. After they got their boys out, Mark ran back to search for Sabrina. He heard her cry–but only once.”
Another mom, Sylvia Tsao, tried to return to the burning airplane to find her son, Evan. She told the senior flight attendant, “You told me to put my baby on the floor. I did, and he’s gone.” Ever since then, that flight attendant has been crusading to ban lap-held children from flights, advocating forcefully on the issue and testifying before Congress.