A Spanish bishop has angered survivors and relatives of the victims of the 2008 Spanair air crash at Madrid’s Barajas airport, after saying that a drag queen event held this week as part of Carnival festivities in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, whose winner performed as the Virgin Mary and Christ on the cross, made him sadder than the disaster in which 154 people were killed.
On Tuesday, Francisco Cases, Bishop of the Canary Islands, issued a statement saying: “I am sometimes asked what have been the happiest and saddest days of my time in the Canary Islands […] and which day has been the saddest. Until now I would reply: the day of the accident in Barajas involving the plane bound for Gran Canaria. From today, I will say that I am living the saddest day of my time in the Canaries.”
Drag Sethlas admitted he was trying to stir up controversy
Describing the Gala Drag Queen of the Las Palmas Carnival as “frivolous blasphemy,” the bishop said he had watched as “thousands of people shouted encouragement, applauded and voted by phone.”
The Spanair flight that crashed in Madrid on August 20, 2008, leaving just 18 survivors, was headed for Las Palmas, with many local people aboard. The president of the Spanair crash victims’ association, Pilar Vera, who lost a niece in the accident, quickly responded to Bishop Cases’ comments, saying in a statement: “It wasn’t just 154 people who died,” but also their families. “We are now dead in life, condemned to fight a system that has victimized us still further by denying us justice and truth, as well as wounding us with words like yours,” adding, “If you have forgotten the victims, then do so completely and avoid mentioning them.”
The winner of the Carnival event, Drag Sethlas, said on Tuesday it was not his intention to “hurt anybody,” admitting he was looking to “generate controversy,” adding: “I succeeded in that.”
Carlos Alonso, the head of the local authority on the neighboring island of Tenerife, posted a tweet saying: “Carnival is transgression… but should not be used to offend the values of so many people.”
Augusto Hidalgo, the mayor of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, tweeted in similar tone, highlighting Carnival’s “transgressive” spirit, it also represented “tolerance.”
The Spanair victims’ association still wants criminal charges to be filed against Spanair executives, AENA airport administrators, and officials from plane manufacturer McDonnell Douglas, but a Madrid High Court ruled against that in 2012.
Vera has also criticized successive Spanish governments for not doing enough to help the victims and their families in the years since the disaster.
English version by Nick Lyne.