A recent plane crash has given Romanians yet another cause for unrest, compounding tensions amid upcoming presidential elections. Seven people, the pilot, co-pilot, four renowned doctors and a fifth year medical student crash-landed in a remote mountain area in Apuseni.
Only five people survived. The underlying causes of their deaths however, have led to media attacks on the health system in Romania, the quality of rescue operations and emergency personnel and the professionalism of certain local institutions.
The pilot, Adrian Iovan, was a well-known and respected figure in his area of expertise and was regularly featured in broadcasts on national television in the case of any aviation mishaps. According to the surviving passengers, as well as the responsible rescuers and police crew, his skills prevented the aircraft from incurring severe damage. Although it will take a considerably long time for investigations to reveal the true cause of the crash, initial assumptions indicate that it was the poor condition of the aeroplane coupled with adverse weather conditions that brought the accident about.
The real scandal of this incident was the delayed response of the authorities. One of the doctors onboard was able to call the Romanian emergency number but it took around six attempts for him to finally get through. Nearby residents took four and a half hours to find the victims, a full two hours before emergency services personnel arrived at the scene. By that time, the pilot and the medical student onboard the aircraft had died of hypothermia and other injuries.
The anger and frustration Romanians feel has accumulated over time but reached its pinnacle in light of this event. The medical and health systems have always been harshly criticised in Romania, but combined with a lack of any prompt response from the competent authorities, government officials and other local institutions, it led to a media massacre.
Prime Minister Victor Ponta initially released an announcement stating that all the passengers survived, only to rectify it shortly after. He dismissed all the involved leaders who failed to handle the situation properly and blamed various parties for their incapacity to deal with the operation. However, this only continued to create unrest amongst civilians and important public figures alike.
In a bid to highlight the Romanian government’s far-reaching incompetency, television programs have continued to feature countless stories on this incident days after it happened. This is not the only event to gain significant airtime: in recent months, the government not only passed a law permitting the euthanisation of stray dogs, but also sanctioned the exploitation of gold reserves at Rosia Montana. The aeroplane crash and the needless loss of two people’s lives only fuelled nationwide feelings of resentment towards the government.
The ministers who were forced out of office argued that they acted legitimately and did their best in spite of the darkness, severe snow, and heavy fog. In fact, the former chief of the emergency services attributed these conditions to a popular Romanian saying, claiming that ‘winter is not like summer and the mountain is not like the plains’. All the important chiefs, leaders and ministers involved also refuted any accusations of incompetence, citing insufficient funds as a key obstacle to providing effective modern equipment.
Despite displaying clear reluctance to operate the deteriorating aircraft, the pilot was eventually forced to use it. What is truly absurd about this situation is that the medical staff on board the aeroplane were volunteers. The above-mentioned military medicine student comprising part of this group was volunteering at a Bucharest hospital and joined the team in the hope of boosting her career prospects. These crucial details are often considered when Romanians voice their irritation at the incompetency of local authorities. It has even been sarcastically alleged in the media that if the passengers were government officials under surveillance, everything might have run more smoothly.
It is simply unacceptable that a failure to respond to emergency situations quickly and adequately continues to underscore developments in a country with European Union membership. It is simply unacceptable that with Romania’s vast socio-economic potential, domestic corruption is still overwhelmingly present.
If funds had been allocated to the right departments and institutions, if medical and emergency personnel had been better trained and equipped and if officials had exhibited more proactivity, perhaps the effects of this tragedy could have been mitigated. Romania’s future as an economically, socially and politically prosperous country, hinges on the hypothetical.