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Ditched At Sea - Tonight on Four Corners

ProgrammingKevin Perry

Monday 23rd March, 8.30pm ABC

Jumping on a plane for business or pleasure is now part of everyday life. We’re told it’s safer than driving on the road. But if the worst happens and you crash, will the law comprehensively protect you for injuries if you survive?

The answer is no.

Shocked? So were the survivors of an air ambulance flight that went down in the waters off Norfolk Island. They quickly found that while they might get compensation for physical damage, they were entitled to nothing for the psychological impact of the crash.

This week Four Corners reporter Geoff Thompson investigates the shocking tale of nurse Karen Casey. She was travelling on the mercy mission when the plane crash landed in the ocean. She saved the life of her patient but her own physical injuries were profound. The nerves in her neck and spine were wrenched, leaving her body in constant pain.

But she also developed crippling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

As her daughter explains, it was like her mother left for work one day and another person came home. 

“She came home and she just was completely different. Her, her face, her mood, her body language just was different. It wasn’t – it was cold, it was, it was just – it just wasn’t mum.”

An investigation of the crash made it clear the company and its flight crew were at fault. You would think that would leave the way open for Karen to seek compensation for the mental anguish ruining her life. 

Unfortunately, that is much harder than it should be and the reason is simple. 

Australia has signed up to an international convention that removes the rights of passengers to sue airlines for purely mental trauma or injury no matter who is at fault when the plane crashes. More alarmingly, that now applies to both international and domestic air travel.

For anyone contemplating air travel, this is a real concern. 

Because Karen Casey could be any one of us. Not only is she physically hurt, but also mentally debilitated and in serious financial difficulty. 

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon spearheaded a scathing Senate inquiry into the flawed investigation of the Norfolk ditching. 

He says: “The salutary lesson of Karen Casey is that even if you do the right thing, in fact are a hero on the night, the system treats you appallingly. She’s been treated like dirt and she deserves better.” 

DITCHED, reported by Geoff Thompson and presented by Kerry O’Brien, goes to air on Monday 23rd March at 8.30pm. It is replayed on Tuesday 24th March at 10.00am and Wednesday 25th at midnight. It can also be seen on ABC News 24 on Saturday at 8.00pm.