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December 29, 1999
Passengers face severe psychological stress
Neena Haridas in New Delhi
Even as the passengers on board the hijacked Indian Airlines Flight IC-814 wait for their release, there has been no effort by the Indian authorities to make available facilities that could help them cope with any psychological disorders resulting from the trauma.
Says Janaki Kulkarni, deputy manager, Indian Airlines, "We have made arrangements to take care of the physical discomforts that the passengers will be suffering when they return home. We understand that anyone going through this kind of harrowing experience will have post-trauma disorders. There are doctors on board the relief flight that reached Kandahar yesterday and they will be able to give medical attention to passengers who require it."
The Airports Authority of India has only made a few doctors available at the airport to attend to any physical injuries. Said Dr O P Kohli, who is stationed at the airport, "Our brief is to provide preliminary first aid and we will try to push them out of the airport. The rest of the medical attention will be taken care of by Indian Airlines."
The medical facilities available at the airport comprise a team of three doctors, a couple of nurses, a stretcher and a few wheelchairs. Indian Airlines has, however, only made arrangements at a local nursing home to take care of injured passengers.
Meanwhile, the crisis management group at the civil aviation ministry has little to offer by way of comment on the matter as its "priority is to rescue to passengers".
According to Dr Rajesh Sagar, assistant professor, All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, the passengers on board will at the moment be going through severe anxiety, panic and a feeling of helplessness.
"In situations like this, people go through severe anxiety and panic which is gradually overtaken by helplessness, hostility, irritability, guilt and depression. Considering that these 157 passengers have been through this traumatic experience for over 72 hours now, they are mostly like going through chronic anxiety. The fear of death will be acute in them and this can give rise to serious post-trauma disorders," he said.
Sagar added, "Above all, these people will now be going through a sense of deprivation as the hijackers don't allow them to meet their relatives or friends on board or talk to them. In fact, I understand they are not even allowed to look out of the window as the shutters are down. In situations like this, human beings start developing trauma symptoms such as incognition, headaches, pain, increased pulse rate, etc."
And what happens when they return home? Dr Sagar said, "For at least a month or so some of these passengers might go through what is known as post-trauma disorder. They start reliving the situation, avoid even talking about airplanes, and might go through anxiety and depression. Children, women and the elderly are more prone to such disorders. But again it depends on the individual's own threshold of breakpoint."
In such conditions, the persons might need immediate medical help and psychological support from the relatives and their environment in general. Since the authorities have not made any arrangements for a team of psychiatrists to be present when the passengers arrive, it will be up to the relatives to do it.
But Dr Sagar said, "It is not just the passengers, even the relatives who are waiting for their return are going through trauma and need psychological support. And I don't think the authorities have done anything to help them. These relatives are getting irritable and hostile which is why they are raiding the prime minister's house or creating a riot in front of Jaswant Singh. If these relatives had been handled with care, by relaxing them and consoling them, such events would not have happened."
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