When the transatlantic Pan Am Flight 103 was destroyed by a terrorist bomb and crashed over Lockerbie on 21 December 1988, I remember hearing about it and watching it on one of the ITV’s ‘News at Ten’ or BBC’s ‘9 o’clock news’ bulletins that same night. I was 28 and there wasn’t internet at the time. There wasn’t any ‘live streaming’ via Twitter or anything else. There wasn’t even Sky News with its ‘non-stop rolling news’ – which wasn’t launched as a 24-hour TV news channel until 1989. With daylight, the newspapers the next day, or the day after, all showed the (now almost iconic) picture of the slumped, shattered half-cockpit of the Pan Am flight, with strewn wreckage nearby. Orange blankets seemed to be covering objects or possibly body parts near the smashed screens of the cockpit – or they might have just been ‘in-flight blankets’ that were also part of the debris.
In a live broadcast yesterday afternoon, Sky News presenter Colin Brazier (presenter of the year at the Royal Television Society Awards) was shown picking through personal belongings of a stricken passenger, including a set of keys and toothbrush, out of some opened luggage from the crash site of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH17. Admittedly, he quickly remarked, ‘we shouldn’t really be doing this, I suppose’ – and he then tried to swiftly move on to other aspects in his news report – but the damage was done. Sky News had to later apologise ‘profusely for any offence caused’, explaining that Brazier had been trying to reflect ‘on the human tragedy of the event’, but that he had ‘immediately recognised that this was inappropriate and said so on air’.
I don’t want to slag off Sky News or Colin Brazier here. Brazier is a professional, he realised his mistake quickly, and I’m sure he feels sick and stupid enough as it is. But I can’t imagine the hell that the families and friends who have lost their relatives and loved ones are going through right now … it makes me shudder.
Over 80 children are known to have been killed in the disaster, with the 298 victims coming from 11 countries, including at least 12 whole families. I read a report about a student from Loughborough University, on his way to Perth in Australia for a summer break or work experience … but I couldn’t read anymore. I thought, this could have been one of my own kids. What would I do? What could I do?
This was a commercial, civilian, passenger jet, for crying out loud. Like Pan Am 103, I know. Like other passenger jets that have been brought down by terrorists, I know. Like the planes flown into the twin towers, I know. But there’s something right now in the immediate aftermath of this tragedy, and in the ‘live streaming’ world that we now live in, that is in some way making it even more torturous, more cruel.
When family tragedies happen, you want to get there. As fast as possible. You want to hug your relatives. You want to try to understand things. You need to – it’s also part of the healing process. Ground Zero quickly became a focal point for many 9-11 victims and relatives to meet and grieve. It must be a living hell right now for the relatives of passengers on flight MH17, with the smouldering crash scene spread over eight square miles outside the village of Grabovo in Ukraine. And now, not only are there masked, hooded gunmen sifting through the debris, but ‘reporters’, too. And it’s all there ‘on line’, on the internet, or being ‘live streamed’. It is sick. I feel for all the victims and their relatives. As for Putin, I have no words. Just saying his name makes me want to spit. The world has gone crazy and it makes me very sad and scared.