Former Flight Attendant, Crash Survivor Leads 24 Year Battle To Change Flying Rules For Young Children

September 10th, 2013
From FORBES –Logistics & Transportation|9/09/2013 @ 3:25PM |John Goglia, Contributor -I write about the airline industry and aviation safety

Jan Lohr-Brown’s crusade to change air safety rules for young passengers began in a wreckage-strewn cornfield in Iowa on a warm July day in 1989. Having just survived the horrific plane crash that took the lives of 112 passengers, Ms. Lohr-Brown, the senior flight attendant on the ill-fated United Airlines Flight 232, faced an even more difficult situation: a confrontation with the distraught mother of a 22-month old child who had perished in the crash. The mother blamed Ms. Lohr-Brown for the child’s death.
As the plane prepared for an emergency landing at Sioux City’s airport – after shrapnel from an uncontained engine failure on the DC-10 aircraft had severed all three hydraulic lines and basically left the aircraft without flight controls – flight attendants prepared passengers for a crash landing. Parents of lap children were told to wrap them in blankets, place them on the floor and hold them with their hands and feet. Unfortunately, despite heroic efforts by the crew and an off-duty DC-10 instructor pilot, the aircraft’s touchdown on the runway was marred when the wing hit the ground, causing the aircraft to catapult into the cornfield adjacent to the airport.
No parent’s hands or legs were strong enough to withstand the G-forces of that catapulting aircraft. No parents’ limbs could be. One lap child somehow landed inside an overhead luggage bin and was rescued. One child, the one who still haunts Ms. Lohr-Brown, did not survive. His name was Evan Tsao. Since his mother and everyone around him survived, chances are his fate would have been very different if FAA regulations had required him to be properly restrained in his own seat. They did not and to this day, FAA rules do not require children under the age of two to be properly restrained in their own seat.

Properly restrained child under the age of two. Photo: Vittorio Colombo

Ms. Lohr-Brown’s campaign for the last 24 years has been to change those rules so that children under the age of two have the same chances of surviving a crash or even rough air as older passengers. While garnering the support of many safety advocates – and even getting the FAA to publish on its website that children under the age of two are safe flying only when properly restrained in their seats – the rule change she has long lobbied for has not been enacted.
But Ms. Lohr-Brown does not give up easily. She’s taken the battle directly to the White House with a petition drive to “end lap children on planes”. According to the petition, created on September 5, it seeks to require the FAA to “end the practice of lap children on all commercial aviation flights by mandating children under the age of two years old be required to purchase a seat” and be properly restrained. The petition seeks to gather 100,000 signatures by October 5, 2013.

I have known Ms. Lohr-Brown for more than a decade. We first met when I was an NTSB Member and she came to lobby me on lap children. Little did she know then that I was already committed to the same cause through personal experience. My own commitment to changing the lap child rule came as a result of the 1994 crash of a USAir aircraft on approach to Charlotte. I was the lead accident investigator for the IAM, USAir’s mechanic’s union. An image indelibly seared in my mind is a firefighter holding the remains of a dead lap child. The mother survived. Her arms were not strong enough to withstand the G-forces of the hurtling aircraft after it was hit by a microburst and crashed on landing.

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