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10 November 2008

Costly Bones

While most of the world closely watched the not-so-close US presidential race, who caught this news update?

"Bones are Fossett's, DNA testing shows"

Fossett refers to the millionaire daredevil Steve Fossett who took off in his private plane in the mountains of Nevada in September of 2007. On this day he was scouting a location to attempt a land speed record with a rocket car of some sort. He was never seen alive again.

In October of this year his plane was found and then earlier this month, 2 bones were found, scavenged by animals, that have been linked by DNA to Mr. Fossett. His death is now confirmed.

But there is more to to this story. In the days and weeks and months after Fossett's disappearance, a sizable effort was underway to locate the missing adventurer. And why not? He was an acclaimed dude, sportsman, friend and rich guy (with rich friends).

An organized search effort went on for nearly two months. The Civil Air Patrol (the civilian branch of the United States Air Force) searched 20,000 square miles in an effort to locate Fossett. The effort goes down as "the largest search and rescue effort ever conducted for a person within the U.S." The cost? Estimated at over $3 million dollars. Ironically, yet sometimes typically, the breakthrough initial discovery of crash debris was found - for free - by hikers who were in the area.

The Kennedy Honors

In July of 1999 John F. Kennedy Jr. attempted to fly his private plane along with his new bride, Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy and her sister Lauren to a wedding from New Jersey to Massachusetts.

The ground crews reportedly advised that he not attempt the flight due to weather and darkness, especially considering that the young Mr. Kennedy did not possess a IFR rating (Instrument Flight Rules) which would have been necessary - and helpful - in such inclement conditions (flying using instruments-only and under the control of the air traffic controllers).

Kennedy did not heed the warnings, nor did he file a flight plan. Once in the air, he quickly exceeded his training and therefore his ability to pilot his plane. Predictable result: he killed himself and his passengers in a violent, cold and wet death in the Atlantic Ocean when he lost control of his plane.

The Bessette family sued the bejeebers out of the Kennedy's for Carolyn's and Lauren's wrongful death after it was confirmed that the crash was 100% due to John-John's careless errors. They got paid out of court to go away.

Besides the Kennedy-sized cash settlement, how much do we suppose that search cost?

There were at least 197 other fatal plane crashes in 1999, but I doubt any of those earned the untethered services of the US Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force to come look for the missing occupants. Or had three burials at sea off the bow of the USS Briscoe, a Naval Destroyer, especially for civilians who never wore a uniform. Or had a presidential declaration for the nation's flags to be flown at half-staff to honor their passing. Holy Price Tag, Batman.

I know what some of you are thinking. Well, why not give the guy a national day of mourning and the services of the US armed forces ad nauseum? After all, his family has suffered right? And his dad did get assassinated, you know, while serving his country as President.

Perhaps, dear readers, perhaps. But not a very compelling case for John Jr. since his arrogant and negligent actions could be likened to homicide of his innocent passengers. Details, details. Sorry, but that is a tad different in the service-to-your-country category.

But perhaps even more to the point: what made Kennedy's or Fossett's disappearance more worthy of such extraordinary search measures than say, the nearly 815,000 people who were reported missing in just 2007 that go nowher near such special attention?

Dannis O. Dutro is was a creepy, 61 year old white guy from Southern California. He was a criminal who molested kids. And when he was released from the hoosegow, he didn't register his whereabouts as required but instead he went house hunting...and then disappeared. For 2 months. He was last seen at the intersection of a road and a trail. He was found deceased by trail riders less than 3 miles away on that very trail from where he was last seen.

There was no news release when he disappeared, no significant (or even insignificant) search effort to speak of and certainly no presidential declaration. He was in the news only when the coroner identified human remains (that tends to be a sexy headline).

Does he deserve any less effort in searching for him than Kennedy or Fossett? By all accounts, Dutro was actually lost and/or missing whereas Fossett, and certainly Kennedy voluntarily put themselves at risk.

Missing, But Not Forgotten

May 25th, every May 25th, is National Missing Children's Day. It was started, unfortunately, 26 years ago by then-president Reagan after 6 year old Etan Patz was abducted in New York. He's never been found. Nor have the nearly 1000 other children who are still missing too.

Etan Patz became, literally, the poster child for missing children back in 1979. He was the first child to have their picture on the back of a milk carton and in New York, he is among it's most famous children. But for all the wrong reasons.

The enduring publicity around his case provided several positive effects. What became the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children was started, the child-on-the-back-of-the-milk-carton program, and of course the annual Missing Children's Day with all of the awareness, training and funding that the NCMEC gets to further its good works.

Sometimes, very bad things spawns several good things.

However, for all the attractive white kids that get abducted that the news covers, there are hundreds of shall we say, non-news worthy children that are seldom if ever covered in the news. No posters, no notices, no nothing.

And as we see when those kids grown up and go missing (Dutro v. Fossett and Kennedy), little changes.

Is there anything you can do to change that? What would you do if your family member were missing and they were not famous, pretty/handsome or white?


Dana said...

This is a difficult question, and one that forces us to put a value on human life. In a perfect world, equality would prevail, however we are no where near that utopia.

I happen to have one of those children - one who in not famous, pretty/handsome or white. I can tell you that if I believed for a moment that resources were not being used to find him that could and should be used, I'd be screaming from every mountain top. I'd involve the media - I'd print my own flyers - I'd use the internet. When all was said and done, I'd do my damnedest to insure no other parent/person was subjected to the inequality.

tt said...

Interesting that you posted this. When the newstations were all abuzz about American Idol contestant and Academy award winner Jennifer Hudson's family being murdered...I thought about this very thing. So many people are murdered every minute but it's not newsworthy...Why? Because of the facts you more I suspect.
We may have just elected the first Black President in our nations history, but equality for the masses has a long way to go. A LONG way.
Sad but true.

Michael M. said...

Dana, but if we treated everyone equally - and searched for them with equal vigor, then we wouldn't have to put a value on human life, right? I a perfect world....

Also, John Walsh, the ever-present host of America's Most Wanted, was such a parent when his non-famous white kid (Adam Walsh) was abducted and killed. He redefined advocate and was one of the original architects of the NCMEC. Now he is synonymous with victim rights.

Michael M. said...

tt,news is news, huh? They cover what draws people in, and as long as we buy it, watch it, etc., they'll keep peddling it.

Equality is in more places that many will admit and in few places where we think it is. A strange world indeed.

Thanks for stopping in to comment TT.

Real Live Lesbian said...

Terribly sad, isn't it. I have no answers, but if Dana needed an assistant with those fliers, I'd be right there!

Michael M. said...

RLL, sad indeed. ANY and all community involvement plays a big part and helps keep us from falling into the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) Syndrome.

Welcome back!