12 April 2015, Sunday – First Emergency Pastoral Care Meeting for Family Members in Düsseldorf (3)

We have breakfast with other family members and talk to a couple about our age who have lost their daughter. Like most of the others they live in NRW (North Rhine Westphalia). We quickly strike up a conversation and get on very well right away. They tell us that they live in a small village where everyone knows what happened to the family. Going shopping is like running the gauntlet – residents either cross the street to avoid them or they get stared at.
The meeting begins and today the group stays together. Mr. Adler, detective chief superintendent from the Düsseldorf investigative commission, speaks first. He informs us that for now the top priority is the recovery of the victims and their personal items. DNA, dental records and fingerprints are being used for identification. It will take longer than anticipated for family members to receive the results.
One of the “irate” people interjects, “What have you been doing the whole time!? It´s been two weeks since the disaster and there´s nothing. No results!”
Mr. Adler stays calm and explains that under French law, the French authorities are responsible for questions of identification and transporting victims´ remains to their home countries. France is cooperating with Germany, but as long as French law applies, German hands are tied.
There is still a question how to deal with items (exhibits as evidence) which cannot be identified. It´s conceivable that image files could be made available to family members on special websites. The items would probably not be sent back to Germany until the victims´ remains have been returned, as their identification takes priority.
Dr. Helmerich, head of the Federal Ministry of the Interior´s Coordination Office Aftercare, Support for Victims and their Relatives (NOAH), says that the organisation offers a so-called pilot service which provides family members with information or organises local help if needed.
Dr. A. Schmidt, the Germanwings representative, emphasises that Germanwings is committed to ongoing and long-term support for family members. He gives everyone an information sheet with contact details.
The lawyer and pastor M. Conrad explains that it´s better to seek legal counsel soon, although, according to the Montreal Convention, in cases of airplane accidents the statute of limitations is up to 3 years. He advises us not to do an internet search but instead gives us names of victim protection groups as well as NOAH which can help us. We should find a specialist lawyer who is an expert in national and European law as well as international aviation law.
The amount of compensation depends on which country the families are suing from.
At the end Ch. Schayen from the Weisser Ring speaks, which is a victim support organisation run by volunteers. It also provides family members with one-to-one assistance on crime victims compensation law, such as health impairments caused by shock, and orphan´s and dependent´s pensions.
My head is spinning. Do we really have to deal with all of this stuff? Obviously yes, but I´m just not ready.
The meeting is interrupted with breaks where we all talk to each other enthusiastically. I increasingly feel secure and understood as I know that I´m not alone and others feel like I do. Our conversations show this. We exchange contact details or promise to come to the next meeting. When we say goodbye I feel as though I´m leaving a family, losing a source of support. We are allowed to take the candle we lit for Jens yesterday home with us.

© Brigitte Voß / Translation: Ellen Rosenbaum


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