New Jersey Plane Crash: Should Families Travel Separately?

PHOTO: Emergency crews work the scene where a plane crashed in Morris Township, N.J. lies on the ground Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011.
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Is it irresponsible for parents to bring their children along on small-plane rides in icy winter weather? How about on a big jets? Should families split up when they fly or even when they travel by road?

These are the hard questions being asked after a tragic plane crash in New Jersey that took the lives of an entire family just a few days before the year-end holidays when millions of Americans take to the roads and the skies.

The Buckalew family, of Charlottesville, Va., were traveling from New Jersey to Georgia on Tuesday to spend the Christmas holiday with relatives, but the single-engine plane piloted by Jeffrey Buckalew became too icy before stalling and plummeting into a New Jersey highway.

"I would definitely rather be all together. I can't bear the thought of losing them, or leaving them," said Jill from New York, a Facebook user who posted in response to Tuesday's plane crash, in which the family of four, their pet dog, and a family friend were all killed.

While the Buckalews and some families insist they want to fly together, other couples insist on flying separately so that one parent will likely survive to take care of the children.

In 2009, an Air France flight that crashed over the Atlantic Ocean claimed the lives of a 34-year-old Swedish mother Christine Badre Schnabl and her 5-year-old son. The woman's husband, Fernando, and their daughter took a different flight, and arrived in France unscathed. The family said after the crash that they always split up on flights in case of tragedy.

"It's a very personal decision, and either side of this is certainly respectable," said Terry Real, a family therapist. "I don't think people that decide to fly separately are nuts, I think they're responding to a real fear."

Alison Rhodes, a national child safety expert, told ABC News that parents should have a plan for what to do if one or both parents die in a crash. Rhodes said parents need to clearly communicate with relatives about "what needs to happen" if there is an emergency when one or both parents perish in a crash.

For some couples, the ideal is traveling together for family vacations, but separately when it's a parent-only getaway. Kelly Salus, of New Jersey, said the fear of living without her husband keeps the family flying together on vacations.

"Tom travels solo with work every week, but when we fly for a vacation, (it's) all six of us together," Salus said of her family. "I don't think I could ever live without my husband."

Even some celebrities, including Kate Winslet and her former husband Sam Mendes, have said they fly separately when they travel to ensure that one parent would survive in order to care for the children.

"Where possible, Kate and Sam do prefer to travel in separate planes," a spokesman said in 2009. "It is not always possible but, for obvious reasons regarding the children, they do travel separately when they can."

Judith Myers-Walls, a child therapist and professor emerita at Purdue University, said that worrying about an unlikely tragedy is an unhealthy way to view the situations.

"Yes, accidents and disasters are possible, but they are not likely," she said. "Making decisions based only on an expectation of future disaster restricts life today."

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