This blog has been quiet for a couple of months due to a number of time pressures, but in the wake of the Shoreham air show disaster, there are a few points that need to be highlighted.
No matter what the investigation concludes about the causes of the accident, about which speculation is pointless, the loss of life would seem to have been primarily among those standing directly under the approach to the airport.
As per last year‘s story, the problem of ‘naughty fields’ and people standing in dangerous areas to view air shows is one that has yet to go away. Today’s newspaper coverage starts to tell a different part of the story – albeit unwittingly. Here is a sample:
“We set out chairs up [sic] for a picnic no more than 10ft from a group of planespotters with binoculars who were all swept away by the explosion. Just before it happened we thought about putting our chairs behind them so as to not obstruct their view but decided against it. If we had changed places we would be among the dead. That’s how close we came.”
Let us be clear: a family felt that it was appropriate to take chairs and a picnic to a grass verge that was not only at the side of a busy dual carriageway but also in the direct path of any aircraft that was on approach to the airport, whether in difficulties or not.
From what this family reportedly said elsewhere in the story, other families were also there with young children. So too were airshow regulars who take pride in standing in the so-called ‘naughty field’ to take photographs of display aircraft from different angles or close-up as they approach.
The article carries on with members of this family and others stating repeatedly that they ‘need counselling’ after witnessing the scene.
Yet none of these people makes the point that they – and any who were on the A27 to watch the show – were flagrantly ignoring signs that explicitly forbade people from standing there for reasons of safety.
The sheer volume of photographs and videos of the crash scene defies belief.
Disbelief not only that they are being sold to newspapers and shared on social media but also the knowledge that whoever took those pictures doubtless feels no sense of responsibility for being there, no compunction about taking money for images of horrific destruction and will doubtless show no hesitation in pursuing any individual or entity for compensation of their alleged trauma or injury as a consequence.
Contrast these pictures with those taken from the spectator enclosure of the event: a distant cloud of smoke rising over the buildings and trees. Not very newsworthy. Much too safe.
There is no question that a terrible event has occurred that has resulted in dreadful loss of life. We must first understand how the crash happened. But we must also understand why the majority of the casualties were allowed to be standing where they were.
In all the fallout from Shoreham, it is ill-informed public and media reaction that offers the biggest threat to the future of air shows. That is not right.
For the six million people who attend them each summer, the unimaginable prospect has been raised that British air shows may be driven out of any meaningful existence. At the very least, the content of air displays may have to be significantly watered down and ticket process raised to unsustainable levels to cover the costs of insurance and legal liability.
Let us allow the bereaved some dignity and the time to come to terms with their losses in private. Let the investigation be conducted with calm and clarity. Let this madness subside and appropriate measures be taken to safeguard against a catastrophe of this scale ever being repeated.
We owe all of the victims that much.