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“It’s going to be an important film to the history of the accident,” Snoddy said.
Dickens, from Chicago, began the project about two years ago. A survivor of a car crash herself, Dickens said she’d always been fascinated by survivor stories. Her curiosity led to a meeting with George Lamson, the only survivor of the 1985 crash of Galaxy Airlines Flight 203 in Reno, Nev., that killed 70.
Lamson had never reconciled what happened to him and had a desire to find others like him, Dickens said. Lamson agreed to let Dickens document his search. “It has evolved quite a bit from that,” Dickens said, though Lamson remains the central character of the film.
As she got deeper into the project, Dickens met other sole survivors, including Bahia Bakari, who was 12 in 2009 when she clung to the wreckage of a Yemenia airline flight in the Indian Ocean for more than 13 hours after 152 were killed in the crash north of the Comoros Islands; Cecelia Chichan, who was just 4 years old when her Northwest Flight 255 went down on takeoff in Detroit 25 years ago killing 156; and Polehinke.
The film, Dickens said, is an exploration about the complex emotions felt by the survivors. It also explores the experiences and emotions of the others affected by the crash: the investigators who explored the crashes, the first responders who arrived at the scenes and the family members of those who died.
For many of the survivors, Dickens said, there is immense guilt and pressure. “It’s unspoken that they need to be doing something grandiose,” she said. “There’s pressure to do something with your life that’s pleasing.”
She said often the public looks at the survivors as miracles, but that is not always how the survivors feel about it themselves.
“They lost something too,” Dickens said. “And it’s easy to forget that it’s a tragedy for them too.”
In the case of Comair 5191, the emotions become even more complex since Polehinke was co-pilot.
After investigating, the NTSB ruled that pilot error was to blame for the crash. But Dickens said the cause isn’t as simple as that and there is some new information, which she didn’t detail, in the film about what investigators say they found during the crash investigation.
The NTSB report also said there were shortcomings in air-traffic control staffing and pilot training, as well as inaccurate airport charts, notices to pilots and airport navigation broadcasts. The NTSB said all played a role in the accident, but pilot error was the key cause.
Once completed, Dickens said she hopes to be able to provide private screenings for those family members who wish to see it.
Snoddy said he will be among those who watch the film, though it will be painful.
“It will be healing for a lot of people,” Snoddy said. “But I don’t think think it will be immediately healing. It’s only been six years.”