Their sorrow, their story: The lived experience of individuals impacted by the death of Special Forces members in the 1996 Black Hawk accident
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
School of Arts and Humanities
Dr Vicki Banham
Dr Hossein Adibi
Field of Research Code
On the 12 June 1996, the Australian Special Forces were conducting night-time counterterrorism training when two Black Hawk helicopters transporting Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) troops collided mid-air. Eighteen personnel were killed, including members from the elite SASR and crew from the 5th Aviation Regiment. In the aftermath of this accident a charity, the Special Air Service Resources Trust, was established to provide ongoing support to the dependants of those killed. This trust is now the Special Air Service Resources Fund (SASRF), and it continues to support the dependants of those killed and the injured from the accident.
There is significant research on the outcomes of sudden and violent deaths; however, there is a paucity of available literature that articulates the lived experiences of those impacted by the Black Hawk accident. There is also no known available literature that articulates the lived experiences of the dependants of the killed soldiers and the injured survivors in terms of the SASRF model of support.
The aim of this qualitative research was to understand the lived experiences of those individuals impacted by the Black Hawk accident. This included the experiences of those provided support by the SASRF. For this purpose, the Bronfenbrenner (1986) socio-ecological model of development was utilised as the framework to guide the study. This model emphasises the importance of expanding bereavement studies to include significant others as participants and a wide range of systems as influencing factors on bereavement outcomes.
The methodology for this study involved the descriptive approach of transcendental phenomenology, selected for its encouragement to put aside the personal experiences and biases of the researcher. Data collection involved an analysis of documents sourced from media sources, television documentaries, government records, historical records and books. A five question online survey was also conducted with participants recruited through social media and email invitation. This method of recruitment reflected the need for creative strategies when researching hard-to- reach populations such as Special Forces. A total of 162 documents and 24 survey responses using purposive sampling were collected. Using the Moustakas modified van Kaam method for data analysis, five emergent themes and one predetermined theme were identified. These themes indicated that bereavement outcomes, the impact of bureaucracy, meaning-making, survivor experiences and bereavement support formed the essence of the lived experiences. The pre-determined theme of SASRF indicated social support as an important characteristic
of the lived experiences.
The significance of this study is grounded in its contributions to understanding bereavement in the context of Special Forces’ sudden and violent deaths. It is the first qualitative study that specifically sought to understand the lived experiences of those impacted by the Black Hawk accident, and the first known study involving Australian Special Forces non-combat deaths. It contributes to the SASRF mission by defining the central elements of bereavement support in the specific sociocultural context.
The findings demonstrate a need for significant change in the field of military bereavement support and the education of social workers. The evidence base enables social workers as agents of change to contribute to the enhancement of relevant policies. The evidence also contributes to the knowledge base of political entities, bureaucracies and community support agencies that do, or might wish to, provide bereavement support in the context of Special Forces accidents.
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Smyth, M. A. (2019). Their sorrow, their story: The lived experience of individuals impacted by the death of Special Forces members in the 1996 Black Hawk accident. Retrieved from https://ro.ecu.edu.au/theses/2184