Wreck of Amtrak's Sunset Limited: News Coverage of a Mass Transportation Disaster
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Using the 1993 crash of Amtrak's Sunset Limited in Mobile, Alabama, this study examines the safety education provided by seven newspapers. A total of 117 news stories were analysed for five primary themes: overall story category, passenger safety theme, train personnel safety theme, train safety theme and rescue safety. Sixty-three per cent were found to contain at least one safety theme paragraph within the larger story. A total of 631 paragraphs were identified as safety theme paragraphs, 32 per cent of which were passenger safety themes, 8 per cent were train personnel safety, 31 per cent were train safety and 29 per cent were rescue safety themes. As in previous research, safety themes rarely appeared alone; more often than not, a story contained a mixture of all themes. Some safety themes appeared more frequently than others, but overall, the safety themes present a complete view of the safety issues surrounding the crash.
Safety themes are embedded within a story framework which reflects the three stages of disaster news work. Images of normalcy tragically disrupted by the crash abound as do images of passengers escaping and aiding others. Disaster relief personnel and aviation officials are shown working to restore order and solve the mystery of the crash. Within this framework we can learn what to expect when a train crashes and what we might have to do in a similar situation.