I was a controller for a long time, and the approach taken toward people who witnessed or were involved in accidents and incidents changed dramatically from the 70’s til today.
Back then, it was suck it up and work the next plane. The first crash I “saw” (as a GCA controller) went straight down off the scope. Two little blips followed it down, as the pilots had ejected. One pilot died, the other survived. I had no idea what to do or say. I was simply handed the next strip and got back to work. Later that evening, after several beers at the local bar, we got in a pickup truck and visited the crash site. That was the norm. I was 19.
In June of 1976, I was stationed on a carrier at San Diego, and my then-wife was a tower supervisor at Miramar. Her tower crew worked the two F-14’s that crashed within a day or so of each other on the field. All four pilots were killed. I got home the afternoon of the second crash and found all her tower controllers drinking and sobbing on my living room floor. They all had to be back at work the next morning, ready to roll.
I could go on and on with these stories. Back then, you simply moved on to the next assignment, the next plane.
That was “therapy” then. Suck it up.
Fast forward twenty years or so, and enlightened attitudes caught up with the levels of stress involved in these incidents for controllers and aircrews. The programs are called Critical Incident Stress Management by the FAA, and I’m sure that many non-government entities work in this area also.
Here is a link to NATCA’s CISM page that discusses reactions to stressful events:
The thing to remember is that everyone handles these things differently. If your friend is having issues with these incidents, tell him that this is a normal reaction, and professional therapists recognize these issues, if he wants to talk to a professional about it.
Its also true that some people have little reactions at all. This is normal, also. We recognize the danger faced in aviation every day and move on with our lives.
I’m a black humor kind of guy about it.
You gotta expect to lose a few.