Families Of Buffalo Crash Victims Seek Changes
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
It's been seven months since a commuter plane crashed in a neighborhood near Buffalo, killing 50 people. A federal investigation of the crash found that pilot fatigue and a lack of training contributed to the crash, which took place in bad weather. Now, some of the victims' family members want changes in how regional airlines are regulated. They're in Washington today, trying to get congressional legislation passed.
Kevin Kuwik joins us from Capitol Hill now. His girlfriend, Lorin Maurer, died in that crash.
And what is it that you want Congress to do?
Mr. KEVIN KUWIK (College Basketball Coach): We can't have, you know, tired pilots, you know, flying across the country. So we need to address the fatigue issue. Secondly, our tragedy clearly revealed that there were some deficiencies when it came to training, and I'd like to see that addressed. And then lastly, and I think honestly most importantly, is that I think we found some real bad news when it comes to the regional airline industry and some shortcuts being taken, and just not really investing in safety the same way that the major airlines are.
BRAND: And why is it? Have you found out why these smaller, regional airlines are not as regulated as the larger airlines?
Mr. KUWIK: Well, I think it's an economic thing. I mean, they exist to fill a low-cost niche in the industry and, you know, we heard today about how, you know, the major airlines like Continental are laying off very experienced pilots and basically farming out those routes to these regionals, who pay entry-level pilots a lot less to fly the exact same routes. And in the end, the traveling public and, unfortunately, our loved ones are the ones who suffer.
BRAND: So why not go to the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates the airlines, and get them to do something?
Mr. KUWIK: Oh, no, and we are working with them. And, you know, administrator Babbitt, particularly when it comes to fatigue, has really been aggressive and tried to get out in front of that. So I mean, we're appreciative of that. That being said, it is still a government agency, and it can only move so fast and, you know, we certainly don't want to just put all our eggs in that basket. So, you know, we're working very closely with Congress to hopefully, address some of these key issues a lot more quickly.
BRAND: What did you do before? What's your occupation?
Mr. KUWIK: Well, I still am. I'm a college basketball coach.
BRAND: So you didn't know much about airlines.
Mr. KUWIK: I knew nothing about airlines.
BRAND: Yeah. How much time are you spending on this?
Mr. KUWIK: I mean, we've probably been out here every two or three weeks and you know, it makes for some late nights on your own time trying to, you know, trying to send out emails and organize the, you know, literature for the meetings. So yeah, it's a pretty intensive thing.
BRAND: And you have to fly down here.
Mr. KUWIK: Yeah.
BRAND: And on your own dime.
Mr. KUWIK: Mm-hmm.
BRAND: And stay in a hotel. And how much money do you think you're spending?
Mr. KUWIK: Oh, I don't keep track. I mean, hotel rooms in D.C. aren't cheap, that's for sure.
BRAND: Initially, right after the crash in February, I imagine just - the feelings and the emotions were just overwhelming and devastating. How were you able to come together with other family members and form this group? How were you able to think organizationally in those moments?
Mr. KUWIK: It didn't happen for a while. I think - you know, I think we all took a month or a month and a half, where we were just kind of sorting out our own personal situations. But as the NTSB hearing in May - as that approached, we kind of gathered together, and we were able to get probably about 40 family members out here in D.C. And we, you know, we all stayed at the same hotel and, you know, we hung out at night together. And I just think that really, really bonded us together.
BRAND: I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about your girlfriend, Lorin. What was she like?
Mr. KUWIK: Yeah, you know, being a coach, I've really focused on my career. It's a very competitive profession, and I definitely would call myself a workaholic. And you know, it took me 33 years, but I finally found someone that really understood and appreciated that. Lorin was a former collegiate swimmer, and it just, you know, just breaks your heart that you - you know, you think you finally found what you were looking for, and it gets taken away from you.
BRAND: Well, I'm really sorry for your loss.
Mr. KUWIK: Thank you.
BRAND: That's Kevin Kuwik. His girlfriend, Lorin Maurer, died in a commuter plane crash near Buffalo back in February.
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