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How flight attendants keep flying after air disasters

Story highlights

  • Flight attendant tells of collective grief over fallen colleagues
  • Attendants wear black ribbons to mark one week since the crash of MH17
  • Dozens of crew killed in recent months, many at Malaysia Airlines
  • MH370 remains missing, two more crashes this week in Taiwan and Mali

Seeing the images of the mangled wreckage of an aircraft after a crash is difficult for any flight attendant.

It is hard to comprehend that this mass of charred metal, broken seats, bits of galleys and cabins, and the piles of personal belongings, was once our office in the sky.

This was our workspace -- and our home, for however many hours. It was a place where we felt safe as we served meals and drinks, carried out safety-related duties, and caught up with our colleagues and friends, laughing and joking about all the latest gossip on "Galley FM."

For an airline to suffer two unspeakable tragedies in just four months is beyond comprehension.

Twenty-one Malaysia Airlines flight attendants and six flight crew have been lost, after the still unexplained disappearance of flight MH370 and the shooting down of MH17.

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Reuters: Plane wreckage found in Mali

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Two days, two plane crashes

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Dozens feared dead in Taiwan plane crash

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It is a testament to the carrier's staff that the airline is still operating a full schedule of flights. It is difficult to imagine how the crews left behind are still managing to put on their sarong-style uniforms, paint on a smile and go about their duties as normal, after losing so many of their friends and colleagues.

To show our solidarity, one week after the loss of MH17, flight attendants everywhere are pinning a small black ribbon to their uniform; to remember our newest angels of the sky.

Can we carry on?

Recently, I have been contacted by many crew members who are unsure if they can continue their flying careers. Unfortunately, there are no words of wisdom for them, no way to take away the pain or the fear many feel over a disaster like this.

Many crew feel it is their duty to keep flying; a tribute to our fallen colleagues who never made it home; to keep doing the job they loved and doing it to the best of their ability.

I know a number of flight attendants and pilots who have been involved in accidents. Some have managed to return to the skies, others have hung up their wings for good. Some have used their experiences to improve safety in the industry, helping to ensure tragic incidents are as rare as humanly possible.

The thought crosses our mind every day when we board our aircraft: "What would we do should the worst happen?" It's part of our job to think this way.

Despite many people's belief that we are there just to serve tea and coffee, or to act as a verbal punching bag when something goes wrong, the primary reason we are on board is safety. Every take-off, every landing, every pre-flight briefing, we run through our emergency procedures in our heads. How would we deal with a decompression? An evacuation? A ditching? A medical emergency?

Thankfully, most of us will never have to deal with these events or use the weeks, sometimes months, of training we've had to save lives. Sadly, the crew of Flight MH17 didn't even get the chance to help their passengers or colleagues. Innocent lives of innocent people wasted in the blink of an eye.

The moment MH17 hit home

Last Thursday, when news of the crash broke, I was operating a flight into Amsterdam, from where flight MH17 had left just a few hours earlier. There was an odd feel about the place and the usual buzz of an airport was gone.

As we boarded the flight, one gentleman in particular appeared very upset. When I went to see if he was OK he told me that four of his friends had been on the flight. Then he burst into tears.

I was speechless, the full impact of this tragedy hit me and all I wanted to do, like so many other flight attendants that day, was to get home and see my family and friends and tell them I loved them.

Much has been made recently of flight attendants being one big family. It has been very moving to see, via my blog and social media, the outpouring of love and support to our fallen brothers and sisters at Malaysia Airlines, and more recently TransAsia Airways after Wednesday's crash in Taiwan. And then, almost unbelievably, Thursday's crash of an Air Algerie flight in Mali.

Strong bonds in the air

It doesn't matter what uniform you wear, what aircraft you work on, whether you fly for a low-cost carrier or work in first class, we are united together and become a source of constant support in times of need.

Tight bonds form with your airline colleagues, as you are locked in a metal tube with these people for hours on end; bonds I have never known outside of the industry.

I hope to extend the black ribbon idea to one day each year, where flight attendants around the world can remember our fallen colleagues.

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