Hans Ephraimson-Abt, 91, advocate for aviation victims

NEW YORK — Hans Ephraimson-Abt, who became an internationally known advocate for families of air-crash victims after the death of his daughter on Korean Air Lines Flight 007, shot down by Soviet fighter planes in 1983, died Oct. 18 in Short Hills, N.J. He was 91.

A commercial 747 bound from New York to Seoul, KAL 007 was shot down off the coast of Siberia, on Sept. 1, 1983, after straying accidentally into Soviet air space. All 269 people aboard were killed.

The Soviet Union maintained the flight was a spy plane sent by the United States, and the attack endures in memory as one of the last, bitterest engagements of the Cold War.


Mr. Ephraimson-Abt was in the vanguard of establishing a unified movement to aid victims’ families. In work that occupied him to the end of his life, he traveled the world, testifying, lobbying, and meeting with government officials, airline executives, and bereaved families.

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“Hans fought for people who didn’t have a voice and didn’t know that they needed a voice,” Deborah A.P. Hersman, National Transportation Safety Board chairwoman, said. “He turned his own tragedy into advocating for all air travelers, to make sure that their families were taken care of and treated with respect after an accident.”

Mr. Ephraimson-Abt, who was fluent in several European languages, assisted not only the families of KAL 007 passengers, but also those of victims of many later crashes, including Pan Am Flight 103, which was destroyed by a bomb over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, he advised relatives of passengers aboard the hijacked planes, in particular the families of passengers from Germany, where he was born and brought up.

Mr. Ephraimson-Abt was the longtime chairman of what was known early on as the American Association for Families of KAL 007 Victims; reflecting its expanded purview, the association more recently became the Air Crash Victims Families Group, of which he was the spokesman.


In 1983, when KAL 007 families chose to band together after the crash, there were few avenues for obtaining support.

In the 30 years since, as a result of their work, significant advances on behalf of victims’ families have been made.

In 1996, Congress passed the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act, which empowered the National Transportation Safety Board to notify the families and the Red Cross to help care for them.

Mr. Ephraimson-Abt also helped broker raising the cap on carriers’ liability to passengers killed in a crash, to $139,000 in 1997.