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Remembering victims of Swissair Flight 111

Published on 03/09/2008

3 September 2008  

BAYSWATER — Flower bouquets and single red roses were laid Tuesday at a memorial in Nova Scotia to remember the 229 victims of one of Canada’s worst aviation disasters on the 10th anniversary of the Swissair plane crash.

Two hundred and twenty-nine heart-shaped rocks placed at the memorial honour each person who died on the flight bound for Geneva from New York on 2 September 1998.

The plane crashed off the coast of Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia, as it tried to land at Halifax airport after the pilot reported the smell of smoke in the cockpit.

Nova Scotia Premier Rodney MacDonald marked the anniversary with a statement offering his prayers for the families of those who died, and recalling how the province came together to help the families after the crash.

David Wilkins, a spokesman for the families, said the support he gets from the Nova Scotian community helps him cope with the loss of his 19-year-old son Monte.

"We are really comforted by the fact that people have not forgotten our loved ones," he said.

Tuesday’s service was Wilkins’ ninth trip to the memorial from his home in California.

"The people here … have made it really important for us to come back," he added. "It is a pilgrimage."

Flight 111 lifted off from New York’s JFK International Airport at 8:18 pm on 2 September 1998, with pilot Urs Zimmerman and co-pilot Stephan Loew.

The crew detected an unusual odour in the cockpit 53 minutes later, and smoke was visible in the cockpit three minutes after that while the plane was in Canadian airspace.

As an electrical fire in the ceiling over the cockpit spread in the wide-body jet, Zimmerman turned the aircraft over the Atlantic Ocean to dump fuel before attempting a descent at Halifax airport.

It is not known exactly what happened in the final minutes of the flight as the plane’s electrical systems began to fail, including the voice cockpit recorder. At 9:31 pm, the plane hit the water off Peggy’s Cove at almost 350 mph, killing everyone on board.

An investigation into the crash by Canada’s Transportation Safety Board blamed flammable insulation that allowed a small electrical fire to spread uncontrolled, melting the cockpit ceiling, shorting out all power and leaving the crew helpless to avert the disaster.

Swissair went out of business in the wake of the 11 September 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States that crippled the airline industry.

In March 2002, a US federal judge dismissed claims for punitive damages for families of victims of the Swissair crash.

[AP / Expatica]