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Publication: Press Date: 31 Jan 2004 Page: E 5
Headline: These parents inspire
Author: BOWRON Jane
In a small country where any hero is heralded almost to death, the somewhat
overlooked courageous acts of Kiwi couple Kevin and Susan Campbell (featured
on Wednesday night's aeroplane disaster series, Mayday) seems a little odd.
If ever there was a real life story waiting for a motion picture to be made
from it, the gripping account of the 1989 United Airlines Flight 811
aeroplane disaster is it.
The story of the disaster and the devastating effects of a defective luggage
door lock that blew a hole in 811, sucking out five rows of seats into the
all-too-thin air and killing nine passengers made terrifying and gripping
viewing. But the post-crash actions of the parents of Lee Campbell were
truly inspiring.
Among the missing presumed dead was Lee Campbell, on his way home from Los
Angeles to New Zealand, destination Auckland. With the greatest of composure
his mother, Susan, recounted the evening she went to bed looking forward to
seeing her son the next day, but woke during the night to see Lee standing
by her bedside smiling down at her. The following day when the Campbells
heard the first reports of the disaster on the radio Susan Campbell knew her
son was dead.
How the Campbells coped with their grief, resolving tacitly to find out what
happened to Lee on Flight 811, gave new meaning to the words dogged and
Immediately they flew to the scene of the crime to see where Lee was seated
and began their own painstaking investigation. Invited to a preliminary
hearing by the National Transportation Safety Board, the Campbells were
allowed to take away only press releases.
But after officials left the meeting room, the couple quietly recounted how,
without saying a word to each other and moving with the speed of the Artful
Dodger, they uplifted boxes of papers sitting near the top table.
As they made their swift exit clutching the vital and withheld information,
officials swept back through an adjacent door, missing the action.
Such gutsy rebellion against a powerful foreign authority displayed by two
unassuming middleclass Kiwis made one want to cheer. For any viewer with
qualms about such a brazen show of anarchy, an aviation lawyer and survivor
of 811 supported their action. He was aboard to get away from the grim
scenario of accidents and crashes, and explained the conflicting role of the
NTSB: to both promote the aviation industry and investigate safety.
The NTSB tried to blame ramp attendants and talked with ear-grating jargon
about the doors suffering from some "sort of abuse".
The Campbells bought a car and criss- crossed America, visiting others
involved in the aviation disaster. As Susan Campbell reeled off the names of
locations visited, including Seattle, Washington, Kentucky, Miami, San Diego
and San Francisco, the enormity of their task hit home.
Kevin Campbell, a trained engineer, knocked up a copy of the lock found on
Boeing 747 planes and demonstrated with shattering logic why the accident
happened on 811 and would continue to happen to other planes still flying.
This display of DIY-ism by a griefstricken but utterly focused parent made
one again cheer for the Kiwi battler taking on the big boy corporate and the
air "safety" board.
It would be churlish not to mention the heroic actions of the captain who
managed to fly his badly damaged plane and land it with great skill on the
tarmac at Honolulu airport. It was the captain's critical directive for
passengers to keep their seat belts on during mild turbulence that saved the
lives of the remaining souls on board.
But it was the Campbells whom air passengers today must thank for the
changes made to the critically flawed design of doors and locks, thus saving
thousands of lives.
Others would have drowned under a litany of lies, sunk into a depression and
been unable to function, let alone conduct the kind of investigation that
would leave experienced sleuths gasping.
They stuck together, and although their dignified heroism has been lost to
the daily inky smudge of yesterday's news, perhaps their inspiring story
retold in dramatic and vivid documentary form can go someway toward giving
them their dues.

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