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Tony Fernandes grabbed his car keys and called his two children. Fernandes knew something wasn’t right as he plucked the Samsung smart-phone from his pocket. I just felt shock really, and a sense of helplessness. It’s every airline chief executive’s worst nightmare. The Airbus A320 jet had plunged into the sea, killing all 162 passengers. It has been suggested that the aircraft climbed too steeply, in order to avoid bad weather, but it lost lift and began falling.
The crash was the third tragedy in less than a year to hit a Malaysia-based carrier, raising fears about the safety of flying in the region. In March 2014, Malaysia Airlines, the country’s flag carrier, lost flight MH370 with 239 people on board travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. A second Malaysia Airlines flight, MH17, was shot down over eastern Ukraine in July, killing 298. When it is suggested that he must have been trained for this kind of emergency Fernandes is momentarily distracted by a message on his phone.
He apologises, taps out a brief response and re-focuses on the questions. I never really practised for it. I never took too seriously,’ he admits. I don’t care how many of those things you go through, nothing can prepare you for this. At a time such as this, the families are paramount. But at the same time we still don’t know the cause. So I called up Airbus straight away,’ he says.
We owe it to the families and crew that we learn from this and get better,’ he says. You have also got to continue to run the business for the 17,000 people still working for you. The resilience of our staff has been quite astounding, to be honest. Air travel is still the safest thing in the world,’ he says.