Eyewitness Describes Crash Families' Plight – QNS.com

Eyewitness Describes Crash Families’ Plight

Tony Maffia walked into the grand ballroom of the Ramada Inn at Kennedy Airport last Thursday to face a somber scene — one he will likely never forget.
Maffia, vice president of psychiatry and mental health of the Mental Health Dept. at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, was one of the first grief counselors to arrive at the airport to console from 30 to 40 families whose relatives perished on SwissAir’s Flight 111 from New York to Geneva.
He described the scene in a dramatic telephone call from the Ramada Inn to a Courier reporter who went to Jamaica Hospital’s administrative offices after being denied entry by police at the Ramada.
"Their first reaction was shock and disbelief," he said. The family members wanted to know why did it happen to my father or brother."
The 49-year-old certified social worker and Jamaica Hospital department head said he immersed himself immediately in the task at hand.
"I spent a long time with each of these distressed individuals," he said. "They need counseling to help them in the discouraging days ahead. They told me their fears and reactions to the senseless and stunning news they had just been given."
Maffia said that the first year will be the most difficult for the family members.
He said that the first birthday and the first anniversary without a loved one would prove particularly painful to families.
"The grief process is different for everyone," he said. "Some will bounce back quickly and others will grieve for longer periods."
The crash, near Peggy’s Cove, near Halifax, Nova Scotia, claimed 229 lives. Investigators were hard at work to seek the cause of the accident.
Maffia said that one victim was headed for a big business deal in Geneva.
"There were others looking forward to vacationing in Switzerland only to see their trip cut short so tragically."
Maffia, certified by the Red Cross in disaster mental health services, worked with dozens of other grief counselors in the hotel’s grand ballroom, a venue normally associated with celebratory events.
The grief counselor described the scene in the Ramada grand ballroom.
"There were dozens of persons from varying backgrounds: a police chaplain, rabbis and priests, Red Cross workers from Manhattan headquarters and, of course, the family members who sought to come to grips with this sudden and final tragedy."
He called the cooperation in the Ramada grand ballroom a "remarkable example of cooperation."
The 12-year veteran of Jamaica Hospital’s departments of psychiatry and social work is in the private practice of psychotherapy in Briarwood.
Maffia has several academic appointments including adjunct clinical instructor in psychiatric and behavioral medicine at York College and Downstate Medical College in Brooklyn.

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