The real tragedy

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 July, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 July, 1996, 12:00am

As the massive search and rescue operation continued off the New York coastline yesterday - almost certainly without hope of finding survivors - preliminary inquiries into the tragic loss of TWA flight 800 to Paris were already beginning to suggest a terrorist attack. However, there was still room last night to believe these predictions might yet be wrong. While the cause of the crash remains uncertain, there was still hope that no one had made a conscious decision to sacrifice so many innocent lives for some unworthy cause. There can still be hope that no callous, inhuman terrorist group can seriously still believe any cause, however noble, can ever justify such means. Last night, it was still possible to believe those hopes were more than just self-delusion.

To the grieving families of the victims, it may not much matter in those first moments after the news finally sinks in whether the sudden and tragic death of 229 people was caused by a bomb or some more mundane mechanical failure. But in those interminable hours as they waited for word that the body of their loved one had been found - or worse, that they were still missing, presumed dead - and in the long months after the initial shock passes, there was, and will be, room for outrage and despair.

How can a family come to terms with the news that some fanatic should have used their child or parent as the scapegoat for his fury? And if the crash was an accident, how can they come to terms with the randomness of death? There are no easy words to comfort the bereaved. There will certainly be endless inquests into security at the airport in Athens where the plane came from before landing at New York and at Kennedy airport itself. There will be probes into the maintenance and condition of the ageing Boeing aircraft in the TWA fleet. There may well be manhunts and court actions. There will be vows that crashes like this must never happen again. But there will be no way to bring the victims back to life. That is the real tragedy. It is the only one that matters.