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February 25th, 2009, at 9:31 a.m., Turkish Airlines flight 1951 crashed upon approach to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, killing nine and injuring eighty of the 135 passengers and crew on board. Investigators in The Netherlands have announced that the crash of the Boeing 737-800 was caused by a combination of an instrument failure and pilot error.

The head of the Dutch Safety Board said that as the airliner’s height was at minus eight feet. Because the autopilot and autothrottle were running from this flawed data, the plane automatically reduced engine power as it would have done in the final seconds before landing.

The plane’s altitude and airspeed continued to fall for a minute and a half without the pilot even noticing. At 450 feet from the ground and an airspeed 46 mph lower than it should be, the aircraft’s stick shaker activated to warn the flight crew of an imminent aerodynamic stall. The pilots applied full engine thrust, but were too late to prevent the accident. The aircraft crashed into a field and broke into three pieces.

Following the investigation, the Dutch Safety Board’s press release stated that, “When the crew of the Turkish Airlines noticed what was going on, it was already too late to intervene effectively”.

This chain of events surrounding a plane crash is a great example of how we respond to painful circumstances when they take us by surprise. For example, when your child comes to you to inform you that they are soon to be a parent, and you, a grand parent! How would/do you react in these situations? Anger, frustration, resentment, yelling, seclusion, running away, perhaps even saying nothing?

At best, even for those of us who work in these environments, we realize that we rarely feel prepared to handle such difficult circumstances the moment that we feel hit by them. Typically, our initial responses are born out of feelings of disappointment, intense fear and anxiety, and may even be strongly influenced by our own past hurts and disappointing behaviors. In short, many times we find ourselves initially saying the very things that help the least in times of crisis. Why is this?

I would suggest to you that this is a problem of perspective. So how can we adopt a loving perspective all the while communicating the truth of the matter? First, you are not a bad person for feeling any of those above mentioned emotions. The rage of emotions you may be dealing with are natural and should be identified and not covered up. Secondly, you CAN address the situation in a way that will facilitate a loving growing relationship with your child. Finally, evaluating or even re-evaluating your approach to such topics will be a challenging road to say the lease, but the focus must be kept on the eventual and abundant reward of taking the right approach.

A college friend of mine currently works as a commercial pilot transporting goods from one state to another, many times across the country. He often flies at night with millions of dollars worth of cargo and nothing more to rely on other than training and instruments. Flight school is geared to train the pilot to only partially rely on the ever-increasing effectiveness of instrumentation. But the checks and balances that have been put in place in their training allow for corrective measures to be taken by the pilot in circumstances where the instrumentation fails.

If the pilots in the above described account would have noticed the auto-throttle on the plane backing the engines off for one -and -a -half minutes prior to reaching that fatal 450 feet above ground, the plane would have never stalled, and the saving of the nine lives and 80 different injuries would have been as simple as the pilot’s adjusting of the throttle by at least 50 mph!

How many times have we failed to evaluate our approach in our responses, and in failing to do so, we have injured the relationship with our kids by responding only from anger or hurt? Ideally, we would allow for the response to lead them closer to the one person we actually want them to rely on and turn to in difficult moment…US?!?

We as parents desire to be the tempered gut reaction in our children’s lives that leads them away from difficult or damaging circumstances. How many of us actually want our children to experience a fatal crash? Hopefully, none of us! The truth is, we also want our children to learn from and recognize the hurt and pain that their poor choices make for them and for us. But let me offer this one piece of advice: they are more aware of that grief and the reality of that pain than you will ever recognize, especially when focusing on our own pain, grief and disappointment is many times the first thing that crosses our minds.

Please be encouraged to take the time to mend old wounds with your child today, regardless of their or your age; and please, evaluate your approach the next time your child is in a hurting and vulnerable position.

Even an empty five-gallon bucket becomes unbearable over miles of travel by foot. How much more unbearable is the emotional pain caused by a loving parent when carried over many years of life?

-Earl Burns