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Opinion

Opinion: The shock hits close to home

Germans are closely following every detail reported about the crash of the Germanwings flight in southern France. Perhaps, because they have the feeling that it could have been them, says DW’s Felix Steiner.

Flying is something that, for many Europeans, is nothing out of the ordinary. It wasn't many decades ago that air travel still smacked of luxury. Today, though, you don't have to be a top earner to board a plane when going on holiday. Nor do you have to be an executive to jet to business appointments within Germany or abroad. Flying has become a normal part of our everyday lives.

Europe on top in terms of safety

That's exactly why the news about the Germanwings crash in the French Alps was so shocking. A plane crash in Russia or Africa? That's not so unusual. But here, in the middle of Europe? A plane from a German airline?

That could have been any of us.

On Tuesday, it happened to 150 people on their way from Barcelona to Düsseldorf. Among them, were 16 high school students with their teachers, on their way home from an exchange program in Catalonia. My daughter has flown as part of an exchange program! The news from the South of France has hit us close to home, and that's why all of Germany, just like all of Spain, is mourning the victims and grieving with their families.

Helping and consoling those left behind is now a priority – as is finding answers as to what caused the crash. But no matter what investigators find out, it will have very little bearing on anyone's travel plans or lifestyle.

Flying will continue to be a part of the lives of all frequent fliers. Yes, we might think twice about flying Germanwings. We might ask ourselves what kind of aircraft we're about to board. Is it an Airbus A320? That funny feeling that many of us have when flying will likely be felt more strongly in the coming days. But we'll continue to board planes, to take off, and also to land safely.

Driving is more dangerous

Although it might sound cynical to those who lost someone special on Tuesday, the truth is that flying is still the safest way to travel long distances. Plane crashes make headlines because most of the time, many people die in them. A plane crash quickly becomes a disaster. The same attention is not given to victims of car accidents. That doesn't make road safety statistics any less shocking. Just the opposite, in fact. In Germany, twice as many people die in road accidents each month as were killed in the plane crash in southern France. And that doesn't stop people from driving, cycling, or crossing roads as a pedestrian.

The number of fatalities from road accidents last year dropped to just 15 percent of the figure for 1970, even though the density of cars and distance traveled has multiplied many fold since then.

Air travel has only once seen a similarly significant reduction – in 2013. The goal, of course, has to be to make flying even safer. That's not just a task for anti-terrorism experts, but also for the engineers and aviation technicians at aircraft manufacturers, as well as the airlines themselves. Regardless of what caused this latest disaster, that is the warning we must take away from Germanwings Flight 9525.

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