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Few of us will have avoided the terrible news of Tuesday morning’s Germanwings flight 4U 9525 from Barcelona to Dusseldorf, which came down on a mountainside in the French Alps bringing the tragic loss of all of its 150 passengers and crew. As the initial shock reverberated around our homes, schools, and workplaces, there followed a palpable sense of loss and sadness in our local community but also throughout the global community, as people tried to digest the information reaching their eyes and ears.

Accompanying these emotions, on occasion, was a comment that “it could have been me”, as family, friends and colleagues relate the disaster to some flight that they travelled on previously, or a future flight they may plan to take, perhaps with the same air carrier or in the same type of aircraft.

And these emotions emerge despite the fact that the vast majority of us will have no intimate connection to this event or to those most greatly affected, beyond that of our common humanity.This depth of feeling reflects this humanity but also the social phenomenon one may observe that the potential for passenger airline accident is something that seems to strike fear into the hearts of almost everyone, to a greater or lesser degree.

It’s not absolutely clear why this fear prevails, as most people have never been involved in any aircraft accident, and we are all statistically more likely to be killed or injured using other more common forms of transport, such as cars or buses, or doing a variety of other more mundane day to day things, like working, particularly if you work in the construction or agriculture sectors. 

Perhaps people fear aircraft accidents because the chances of survival in the event of a serious accident are low? It could also be the lack of control you have over your own safety when travelling in a passenger airline, with your health and safety being placed in the hands of the pilots, crew, and sometimes other passengers, none of whom you know and some of whom you will never see or meet. It’s probably a combination of these emotions and many more.  

Although it will offer no comfort to the loved ones grieving the loss of flight 4U 9525, all the available statistical evidence suggests that passenger airline travel is safer than ever. Even so-called “budget airlines” like Germanwings, Ryanair, and Easyjet, are subject to the same safety standards as the other more established carriers and, again, the available evidence indicates they are just as safe.

Of course, the investigation into what happened and how it happened to cause the disaster of flight 4U 9525 is in its infancy. With the recovery of one of the aircraft’s two ‘black box’ flight data recorders, there is hope that answers will emerge. As is the case with any tragic accident involving the loss of life, answers are a most important commodity for the loved ones of those lost. They can allow people to make some sense of what happened. They also allow European leaders to ensure lessons can be learned and measures put in place to avoid similar tragedy in the future, for the good of all of us.

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