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Safety Awareness Is Everyone’s Business

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Rick Jellison
  • 43rd Airlift Wing, Comptroller
This past weekend my wife and I took a trip to New York City to celebrate our anniversary. We planned the trip just like we always do: airline tickets, hotels, weather updates the usual stuff. This being our first trip to NYC, we decided it would be best to take the shuttle to our hotel rather than trying to drive. This was a very smart decision on our part since driving 10 miles to our hotel near Times Square took an hour.

Of course we tried to pack as much fun as we could into a thee-day weekend trip - from the Statue of Liberty and Ground Zero to the Empire State Building and even a Broadway show. Yes indeed, we had planned this trip pretty well. However, if you have ever been to NYC, you know what I mean when I say it was a bit overwhelming. It was much bigger and busier than I could have ever imagined. Both people and cars fought for the same space and neither was watching out for the other - a disaster waiting to happen.

On the second day of our trip, we planned a boat ride down the Hudson River to get a close up of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island - a sight you must see if you ever travel to the NYC area. Since the pier where we needed to board the tour boat was only five blocks from our hotel, we decided to walk and do more sightseeing on our way toward the river. Once we arrived at the river, we joined about 200 people waiting in line for the same thing. Shortly after that, we loaded on the boat, received a safety briefing and drifted down the Hudson. The tour was worth every cent and the Statue of Liberty was a breathtaking site.

On our return from viewing the city's sights from the river tour, a tragedy unfolded in front of our eyes that will forever be engrained in our minds - a mid-air collision between a small airplane and a tour helicopter about 200 yards in front of our boat. Our boat's crew went into an immediate rescue mode as first responders headed toward the crash site over the Hudson River. As we closed in on the crash site, nothing but debris was left on the surface of the water. The crew watched closely for survivors to surface the water, but unfortunately all nine people aboard the two aircraft died that day as we stood on our tour boat hoping and praying for their lives. We remained at the crash site for about 30 minutes before the Coast Guard and local police relieved us and we headed back.

Needless to say, we were all in shock over what we had just witnessed.
Many of our fellow passengers were trying to grasp how, with today's advanced technology, something like that could occur and wondered which pilot was not paying enough attention to avoid the tragedy. The helicopter had only been airborne for one minute when the tragedy occurred. No doubt there will be a lot of speculation as to what could have gone wrong and who was ultimately at fault, but, regardless, nine lives were lost that day and their families' lives changed forever.

The reason I share this is to remind you that each of us plays a vital role in not only our own safety but in the safety of those around us. Even with the proper planning and training, you can become a victim of someone else's lack of safety awareness. Planning and safety should always go hand - in - hand. Becoming complacent in our responsibilities can result in injury or even death. If you see an unsafe act unfolding in front of you, do your part to stop it. If you are unable to stop it, do your part to help recover from it.