SARSCENE - Winter 1998
SwissAir flight 111
By now, the facts have become part of our collective memory: Swissair Flight 111, en route from New York City to Switzerland, crashed into the Atlantic Ocean just off Peggys Cove, Nova Scotia, killing all 229 people on board.
The images of sorrow flashed across television screens around the world and united all who watched in sympathy and disbelief. But for the people of Nova Scotias south shore, the pain has lingered long after the media spotlight vanished and the story became old news.
In early November 1998, I had the privilege to travel to Nova Scotia and meet some of the people involved in the Swissair Flight 111 mission. I extend my appreciation to everyone who took the time to tell me about their experiences. Special thanks go to Cst Everett Densmore and Cpl Archie Mason of the RCMP and Charles Deveau of the Nova Scotia Ground SAR Association.
Jennifer Reaney, NSS
"Weve learned a lot of lessons from the crash of Swissair Flight 111," says Maj Michel Brisebois, Officer-in-Charge at the Halifax Rescue Co-ordination Centre (RCC). "But looking back, I wouldnt change any of the fundamental actions we took. Everything was done well."
The Swissair crash was unique on many levels. For the busy RCC, calls about aircraft possibly in distress are frequent. Over 500 flights pass through the skies of Halifax every day, amounting to 207 000 flights per year. So on Wednesday 2 September, when the RCC received the call from Moncton saying an aircraft had been lost on radar, no one anticipated the impending disaster.
When the second call came in, the scope and extreme urgency of the situation became all too clear. Maj Brisebois had been at home for 15 minutes when he was called back to the RCC. Telephones in the operations centre were ringing off the hook as the three RCC personnel (Air and Marine Controllers and a Radio Operator) tried to get the situation under control. Within one hour, 12 personnel were working together to get control of the situation. "As personnel came in, a Search Master was assigned to section off duties," recalls Brisebois. "This way each person is totally responsible for a certain part of the process and can focus all of their abilities on the task at hand, which brings the tasks to a more manageable size."
One of the first obstacles to be tackled was the problem of media. It didnt take long for media to discover the RCC phone numbers, and the lines became jammed. Controllers couldnt make outcoming calls to the resources and people waiting to be tasked.
Sixteen public affairs staff from the RCC and the Canadian Navy were called in to move the media calls away from vital RCC phone lines and establish a communications structure. "We realized also that having a single point of contact was important for everyone," said Brisebois. "Not having to go through a list of people to get the information you need is very important, so we asked for representatives from the various agencies (Swissair, Emergency Measures Organization, Canadian Coast Guard and RCMP) to streamline
communications and use all resources in an effective manner." The Incident Command Structure was implemented and the RCC became a joint operations centre. The structure worked well, and |the RCC gained and sustained control.
The first challenge was determining the search area. "We had the last known position of the plane, and we had a number of phone reports from various locations around the Aspotogan Peninsula. The initial search area was narrowed to an area of 10 nautical miles," recounts Brisebois. Conditions were poor: Hurricane Danielle had recently swept through the area leaving bad weather and low ceilings. First light revealed the location of the debris field.
HMCS Preserver was in the area and was soon made the on-scene commander, giving her the responsibility to task resources and control aircraft and marine resources in the area. On Thursday 3 September, Brisebois and his staff contacted Commander Leblanc of the United States Coast Guard (USCG), who had dealt with similar circumstances in the TWA Flight 800 crash. Leblanc shared the lessons learned from that incident. In the TWA crash, the search for survivors was called off just hours after the crash. This took hope away from next-of-kin and made the USCG the target of harsh criticism.
"We had tasked all of our available resources to the search area," said Brisebois. "Volunteers were already recovering debris and, from that, we could pretty much tell that the chance of finding survivors was slim. But we didnt want to give up too soon."
One of the methods used to make the decision to keep searching was the information available on cold water immersion. Science can make predictions based on a persons age and percentage of body fat of how long an individual can survive when immersed in cold water. "Using the cold water immersion model, our target point was 36 hours. But you cant just go by the prediction chart," says Brisebois. "Often we see the human body survive in terrible conditions way beyond whats typically predicted, so we usually search for days longer than whats predicted."
Because the search area was very small and had been searched repeatedly by air and marine resources, any hope of finding survivors was disappearing quickly. "You never really want to say theres no way anyone survived this," notes Brisebois. "Its a terrible feeling. We gave it every benefit of the doubt, but at 10:30 on Friday morning we transferred control to the Transportation Safety Board and repatriated all primary SAR assets."
At the Friday evening meeting of emergency response personnel and the families of the victims, Brisebois had to tell the more than 600 family members that there was no possibility of finding survivors. "My responsibility is to the public of Canada and to the families of the Swissair passengers," states Brisebois. "The families need to know that everything possible has been done. They deserve to know everything."
Jennifer Reaney NSS
When Swissair Flight 111 crashed into the ocean off Peggys Cove, Nova Scotia, local fishermen, many of them volunteer members of the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary, were the first people on the scene.
"It didnt take very long to realize that this was not a small incident," says Jack Gallagher, Superintendent, Rescue Safety and Environmental Response for the Maritime Region. "We had to mobilize all of our resources for an extended stay."
The Canadian Coast Guard responded quickly with numerous ships, including CCGS Hudson, CCGS Mary Hichens, CCGS Simon Fraser, CCGS Earl Grey (equipped with a boom to retrieve debris), CCGS Matthew (equipped with multi-beam and sidescan sonar to create 3-D images of the ocean floor) and CCGS Sambro (first government vessel on the scene).
In addition to these ships, 14 fast rescue craft and more than 15 Auxiliary vessels were also involved in the extensive recovery operation. Canadian Coast Guard helicopters were used to support teams doing island and shoreline searches.
"Behind the scenes, we had night crews of mechanics making sure that at the beginning of every operational period, all boats were decontaminated, fueled, fixed and ready to go," says Gallagher. "Then there were the people who worked to make sure that our computer networks didnt crash. We were only able to maintain this operation because we had the total support of our management who wanted us to do the job right no matter what it took."
In terms of resources and cost, Gallagher says his entire annual budget would have been spent by day three of the operation. "The costs were staggering,"
he says. "When you think of the people, boats, fuel, maintenance, communications not to mention feeding and housing your people, its mindboggling."
Boats from the Conservation and Protection Branch of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans also joined the effort. "The Transportation Safety Board established a closure zone, and we were responsible for maintaining and enforcing the zone to block unauthorized traffic," says Gary Hutchins, Fishery Officer. Government and designated Auxiliary vessels were easy to identify, but in many instances officers had to turn away media or curiosity-seekers.
One major challenge was the arrival of new crews to the mission. "Everyone needed training when they arrived," Hutchins says. "This area is challenging for navigation at the best of times and having to search close to the shoreline requires special attention. So in the midst of the mission we were also constantly running training programs. But it paid off, and all the searches were carried out without any safety problems."
Bruce Henderson, Rescue Training Co-ordinator at CCG Sambro, says community support made all the difference for the marine searchers. "Almost without exception, all the workers wanted to stay till the very end," recalls Henderson. "Even when conditions were extremely adverse, people were willing to work anywhere at any time. The civilian support was incredible from the ground searchers to residents who brought us food and tried to make everyone more comfortable."
"We worked very closely with the Coast Guard, the Auxiliary, the RCMP and volunteers. It was really a pleasure to work with all of the other agencies and there was only the utmost co-operation among us," recalls Hutchins. "All of us had the same goal and that was to make sure that everything that could be done was done well."
The RCMP also provided marine search capabilities using its own vessels and boat operators. Cst Vince Wood, of the Tantallon Detachment, echoed the appreciation for community support. "Operations-wise everything was fairly normal for us," says Wood. "Our training is standardized and we certainly know how to handle evidence, but a search of this duration and the nature of the evidence we were handling were unique." The team work and camaraderie of the operations out of Yankee Cove were a high point for Cst Wood and the other marine search personnel. "Its always great to work with new people, and the community has been excellent," says Wood.
For the marine searchers, enforcing the search zone will continue until winter weather shuts down dragging operations. Pending any results from the investigations, further searching may or may not continue in the spring of 1999.
Jennifer Reaney, NSS
While the Swissair mission seemed insurmountable to people reading about it in the newspapers, for the ground SAR teams from across Nova Scotia, the search was nothing they couldnt handle.
"Really its not hard when youre organized," says Brian Russell, Halifax Regional SAR Search Director. "We have a good system here and plenty of searchers. We had a lot of advantages because of all the work thats been done here."
But Russell admits that the Swissair mission did push volunteers to the limit because of what they were confronted with and how long the search took. "For the first couple of days we had lots of times when youd be searching a beach and not realize that what you were finding were human remains," he recalls. "At first its too much, but then you think that everything you find might help identify a victim and help the family, so that keeps you going even when its hard."
One of the major challenges for searchers was the terrain. The Aspotogan Peninsula is treacherous with rocky shorelines, steep cliffs and dense woods. Exhausted searchers scoured beaches with slippery rocks shifting under their feet. In places, they couldnt get back up the cliffs and had to continue walking the beaches. Further inshore, searchers had to contend with terrain that changes constantly, from rocky clearings to dense forest, to swamp.
On 22 September, in the midst of the Swissair mission, teams were called out to help find a missing 71-year-old woman. With dipping temperatures and dangerous terrain, searchers feared for her safety. But she was found safe the next morning. "It really picked up morale to find someone alive, it brought back some normalcy," says Russell. "We also had a lost hunter out near the Halifax airport and he was found in four hours so that picked up our spirits, too."
Behind the Scenes
Evidence bags, garbage bags, three kinds of gloves, water, throw bags, meals and first aid equipment: inside one of the three trailers at the Whales Back Command Centre, tables are stacked with the supplies needed for each ground searcher before they start another days search. Keeping track of the inventory and the people passing through the busy site, not to mention having to account for everything purchased at local stores or donated from various agencies, is a major undertaking.
"At the height of the search we had 800 volunteers passing through here in one day," recalls Chris Hubley, Logistics Officer for the Whales Back Command Centre. "We had to make sure each volunteer had all the required gear and that they knew how to use it properly." The Swissair mission was essentially a huge evidence search, so volunteers had to know how to retrieve pieces of the plane properly and protect themselves from sharp metal and carbon residue. For the human remains, searchers had to use proper procedure to avoid contaminating the remains with their own DNA.
Supplies came from across Canada maps, food, drink, trailers, blankets, toiletries and from the community. "We kept track of everything," says Lorraine Carroll, also a Logistics Officer. "Aside from inventory and people, we also had to manage the site, including vehicles, fuel, all the receipts and all the money."
One major adjustment for Hubley was picking up the phone and asking people to bring supplies or equipment to the site. "People laugh at me because I always try to do everything for as little money as possible," she says. "But I know how hard it is for us to raise money, so I try to be as creative as I can. With this operation it was really strange for me to just phone someone and ask them for stuff."
In the midst of the Swissair mission, eight additional searches took place in Nova Scotia. Team resources were taxed to the limit, and volunteers worked extremely long hours. "Id say for the first few weeks, we were here from five oclock in the morning till about nine each evening," says Hubley. "Then you drive home, see your kids, try and do the household things, not to mention the piles of paperwork that you bring home from the command centre. By the time you do all of this and then wind down enough to sleep you end up with four to five hours sleep max."
From a heavy briefcase Hubley pulls out calendars: the entire month of September has Swissair written in each square. Hubley points out when other searches occurred and the weeks where she went back to her regular job at Workers Compensation. "All of the employers deserve a lot of credit," she says. "In most cases theyve been really good letting Ground SAR volunteers take the time off to do the searching. But I know lots of people who have used up next years paid leave or sick days to keep searching. People want to work till the jobs done."
Carroll was recruited for the operation from the Beaverbank Community Policing Office where she volunteers every week. "Now I have an application in to join the Halifax Regional Team," she says, smiling.
The Halifax Regional SAR team has 130 members, including seven alarm operators which means that the team can be ready for a search in a very short period of time. "We do expect that well get new members out of this," Russell says. "Any time we have a fairly high-profile search we get new members. Not all of them stay, some get turned off when they realize how much training and time is required."
"When SAR touches a family, we also get new members," he says. "If you look at all the SAR teams in Nova Scotia, and probably everywhere in Canada, there is probably at least one member who joined because a family member has been found alive or dead, by a volunteer search team. Its like any resource, you dont realize its there or how valuable it is until you need it yourself."
The troubling nature of what searchers were faced with every day in the Swissair mission is made even more difficult because this happened in their com-
munity. Unable to escape the physical reminders of the search made coping difficult. "Water was always my salvation," says Hubley. "I always felt relaxed and at home when I looked out at the ocean, but knowing what happened to all of those people changes how you look at things."
"For me its fish," Carroll says. "I just cant bring myself to even look at fish, let alone eat it. Ive seen what came out of that water, and its hard to think of it in the same way now."
"Its going to take time," says Hubley. "Weve been through 58 days of hell."
Jennifer Reaney, NSS
Thousands of stories of kindness and personal struggles came out of the Swissair mission. Its impossible to recount all of them in depth but here is a short collection of some of them.
Jennifer Reaney, NSS
Ground Search and Rescue (GSAR) in Nova Scotia has evolved into a highly trained, well equipped and motivated resource for the province and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Consistently proving its effectiveness and worth as an immediate response to lost or missing persons incidents throughout the province, the Nova Scotia GSAR community has accepted a challenging and pioneering role in criminal code evidence searches.
In this forum, the community has demonstrated high levels of dedication, versatility and proficiency while providing invaluable assistance during RCMP major crime investigations. The current SAR program in the province is founded on a three-way partnership among the Nova Scotia Ground Search and Rescue Association (NSGSARA), the Emergency Measures Organization (EMO) and the RCMP.
During 1997, the NSGSARA had 1550 members belonging to 26 separate teams across Nova Scotia. These local teams are supported by 58 Incident Commanders, three Zone Co-ordinators and one Provincial Co-ordinator, all regular members of the RCMP. During the 74 lost person missions conducted across the province in 1997, there were 52 000 operational person hours expended by volunteer SAR personnel while RCMP investigators. Media liaisons and incident commanders worked another 5000 hours. Volunteer SAR personnel logged an additional 2500 person hours during 20 evidence searches conducted in Nova Scotia the same year.
During the recent Swissair 111 mission, NSGSARA volunteers answered the call, taking nearly 400 taskings for over 40 000 person hours to recover human remains, personal effects and aircraft parts from the shores and islands of the south shore. Over five tonnes of debris and thousands of kilograms of human remains have been collected to date, and recovery of evidence is ongoing.
Nova Scotia SAR training standards have been exported to other regions across Canada, Europe and New Zealand, and have been adopted by the provinces of Prince Edward Island and Quebec. During 1997, three Search Manager courses were held across the province facilitated by the RCMP SAR Co-ordinator and NSGSARA, in addition to numerous ongoing training sessions in the many disciplines required to perform SAR effectively.
As volunteers, the GSAR teams were able to maintain searches for 60 days, during 47 operational periods, delivering a very high standard of service every single day. They have set a precedent, standing next to paid SAR agencies for an extended operation and performing to a high professional standard.
"In Nova Scotia, the volunteer GSAR teams work as equal partners with the RCMP and the EMO," says Charles Deveau, the associations president and member of Yarmouth Search and Rescue. "The joint training conducted with the RCMP means that our members can be called out on evidence searches for criminal investigations because they have been trained to handle evidence correctly. This certainly paid off in the Swissair mission."
The close relationship with the RCMP means that if an RCMP officer wishes to become a SAR Incident Commander, he or she must go to the local volunteer GSAR team to be trained and certified. At the same time as the Swissair mission, volunteers were called out to perform an evidence search as part of a double murder investigation in Blandford. Regional police forces are currently investigating whether they too can use volunteer teams in evidence searches.
Cross-training with other organizations such as the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary and the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association (CASARA) gives the teams even more preparation for SAR incidents.
"Were certainly very proud of all of our members," says Deveau. "They performed very well during the Swissair mission and hopefully now even more people will be aware of them. They really took ownership of this mission and didnt want to stop working till everything possible had been done."
Cst Everett Densmore
In 1986, while visiting Nova Scotia with his parents, Andrew Warburton disappeared in the woods. Despite the best efforts of thousands of volunteers and police, Andrew was not found alive. On leaving Nova Scotia, Andrews parents said, "Maybe Andy didnt die in vain if the people down there learned something."
The Warburton search revealed several problems with the way in which ground search and rescue was performed in the province. The lack of an effective communications structure, hampered search efforts; teams didnt work well together as their training and organizational structures werent consistent; and search and rescue (SAR) management was ineffective.
"Back in 1986, teams were using widely- known SAR management tools," recalls Cst Everett Densmore, RCMP Ground SAR Co-ordinator. "But better materials and training were out there and it became clear with the Warburton case that we needed to change the way we did things."
Densmore turned to the National Association for Search and Rescue (NASAR), in Virginia and the Incident Command Structure (ICS). This extensive course in SAR management addresses all aspects of a search. RCMP officers were trained initially, and then taught ICS to civilian SAR managers from the provinces GSAR teams. At the time of the Warburton incident only five RCMP officers had been trained as SAR Incident Commanders. Over the next few years, more than 50 people were trained in ICS. This new command structure improved delivery of service and consistency among the provinces 23 volunteer SAR teams.
Since 1986, Nova Scotias GSAR system has evolved, and the province is now regarded as a leader in the field. Today, more than 1500 skilled volunteers make up the Nova Scotia Ground Search and Rescue Association (NSGSARA) and work very closely with the RCMP. Now when a SAR incident occurs, the police department of jurisdiction and the provinces Emergency Measures Organization can contact one entity, the NSGSARA.
Each team follows the ICS, and NSGSARA members have standardized SAR training. In the Swissair recovery mission, this consistency proved vital. "During the Swissair mission you could have a team made up of people from Cheticamp, Yarmouth, Halifax and Digby all working together because they all have the same training," says Densmore. "This made our job that much easier as we could rotate searchers and quickly deploy qualified teams in an efficient manner, knowing they could do the job well."
Cst Densmore is extremely proud of the work done by the GSAR teams of Nova Scotia. "The Association and all of its members have worked so hard for so long," Densmore says. "The Nova Scotia program is the best because they have done a difficult job extremely well."
Jennifer Reaney, NSS, in interviews with Cst Everett Densmore
Searchers: Nova Scotias Volunteer Ground SAR Teams
The following teams constituted the Ground SAR component of the Swissair mission. All of these teams are made up of skilled, trained and certified Ground SAR personnel who worked tirelessly on dangerous terrain to provide evidence for the investigation into the crash.
County Ground SAR
Barrington Ground SAR
Cape Breton Ground SAR
Colchester County Ground SAR
Clare Ground SAR
Digby Ground SAR
East Hants SAR
Eastern Shore Ground SAR
Fundy Ground SAR
Inverness Ground SAR
Lunenburg Ground SAR
Middle Musquodoboit Ground SAR
Queens County Ground SAR (North and South)
North Shore Search and Rescue
County Ground SAR
Pugwash Ground SAR
Sheet Harbour SAR
Strait Area Mutual Aid Society
Valley Ground SAR
West Hants Ground SAR
Yarmouth County SAR
As with any major disaster story, the crash of Swissair Flight 111 attracted the attention of the worlds media. But when a community with a population of 60 is invaded by satellite trucks and reporters, some interesting stories develop that never make it to print or to air.
For the Ground SAR volunteers, fishermen, RCMP, Coast Guard, Fisheries and Oceans and military personnel responding to the Swissair crash, dealing with what they have seen and experienced can exact a heavy toll on their emotional well-being. "Everyones life is like a closet," explains Garry Hicks, RCMP Employee Assistance Program Co-ordinator. "An upsetting experience is a shoe box. Every time you deal with the stress you put another shoe box in the closet until eventually the closet cant hold any more. Critical Incident Stress counselling aims to defuse the situation before the closet explodes," Hicks says.
Critical Incident Stress counselling has been provided by the RCMP, Health Canada and the Canadian Red Cross to help those involved in the Swissair mission. Combating the perception that emotional distress is a sign of weakness is difficult, especially when dealing with paid emergency response personnel. "For a lot of these guys the feeling is hey this is part of my job, I can handle it myself," says Hicks. "Unfortunately there is still a stigma attached to the concept of mental health."
"What we always have to remind people is that these are all normal reactions of normal people to an abnormal event," says Hicks. "Our counsellors let people conceptualize what theyve seen and heard and normalize their reactions to it."
In Nova Scotia, the RCMP currently has 29 trained Critical Incident Stress counsellors, 18 of whom are also chaplains. The force also has a full-time psychologist who complements the resources available to members.
"Its really important to make sure no one falls through the cracks," Hicks says. "So there is an agreement in place that any volunteer who requires further counselling will have access to it via the EMO (Emergency Measures Organization)."
Families of those who have worked on the Swissair mission also have an emotional burden. To help them deal with the impact of the tragedy on their lives at home, information sessions were held and support materials provided. The counsellors themselves are also at risk from what Hicks calls "compassion fatigue." All personnel get debriefings to help them deal with the emotional exhaustion involved in counseling on a large scale over an extended period of time.
"We sincerely hope that we dont miss anyone," says Hicks. "But time is a big factor, and I dont foresee the emotional toll of the Swissair tragedy ending anytime in the near future. Healing can be a long process, but were prepared to keep helping people indefinitely."
Jennifer Reaney, NSS
Its hard to imagine that all thats left of Swissair Flight 111 are the boxes of wires, metal and insulation in the hangar at CFB Shearwater. Huge photos of the MD11 rest against the walls, and teams of people are stationed around the hangar processing all the pieces that arrive.
Teams of personnel from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Transportation Safety Board, Boeing, Swissair and others decontaminate, sort, photograph and document each piece recovered by searchers. In the initial sort, the evidentiary value of each piece is determined based on whether it can be attributed to a certain part of the plane or shows a particular type of damage.
On the day of my visit, 26 containers of debris recovered by scallop dragger operations have arrived. Personnel use what resemble large dustpans to scoop the pieces out of the deep boxes for examination. Each large box, or tri-wall, is given a reference number and is sorted according to its contents. Pieces that arent initially determined to have high evidentiary value are placed in other areas to be re-examined at a later date.
I find it incredible that anyone can examine all this evidence and find a cause for the crash as I walk down the aisles between the large boxes. The miles of wires found by searchers are all examined by specialists. Each piece of evidence can tell a story. Whether wire is blackened, has melted copper or shows signs of arcing tells investigators the proximity of the wire to the source of heat, how hot the wire burned and if it burned in flight. Undamaged wire is also important as serial numbers on the coating can be matched to MD11 blueprints and show where there was no burning in the aircrafts vast electrical system.
Any piece of debris which is sooted, melted or discoloured due to excessive heat is flagged "fire." These pieces are given a delicate freshwater wash, which while it does remove soot, serves to help preserve the evidence. They are then dried and identified. Investigators use three methods to determine which part of the plane the piece comes from. "X" represents a horizontal axis along the fuselage, the "Y" axis, parallel to the wings, allows debris to be plotted as left or right of this central axis and "Z" indicates the vertical axis.
Once the origin of the piece of debris has been plotted, it is shelved according to the X, Y and Z points for future incorporation on to a large jig which will allow investigators to recreate the MD11 out of the recovered debris. Plotting is achieved using a physical mockup (the jig) and by using computer models and virtual reality.
Paint can reveal several things to investigators. Fire evidence is detected by discoloration, each paint reacts differently to heat, creating many colour changes. For example, the paint called FR Primer is green, but when heated, it may turn brown, darker brown, black or it may burn off completely leaving metal exposed. This gives laboratory staff a temperature profile for each piece of metal which, when compared to profiles of other pieces, may tell investigators the location of the heat source. Metal itself may also change based on exposure to high temperatures. The softness or hardness of the metal and its conductivity are tested. Beyond all of this, a scanning electron microscope with a very high magnification provides valuable optical evidence such as a feathered edge, edges that look like the edge of a straw broom or fractures in the metal which also indicate a temperature profile.
Human remains have also provided valuable evidence to investigators. Computer programs are used to reconstruct bodies and, once DNA identification is complete, staff use passenger lists and seat numbers to see if a pattern can be established based on the remains recovered from passengers in each part of the plane.
Some have questioned the extent to which human remains are examined, as cause of death is certainly not an issue in this case. However, as with physical evidence from the plane itself, human remains can also tell investigators a great deal. In essence, bodies are also flight data recorders. The human body absorbs chemicals and gases in its immediate environment and after death, toxicology tests on tissue can reveal if, for example, a person was surrounded by smoke before he or she died.
Based on where that person sat, investigators gain one more clue in determining the location of the heat source. If DNA is detected on metal or fabric recovered from the plane, investigators can cross-reference their findings. Beyond discovering the cause of the Swissair crash, investigators can also use their findings to review the safety equipment used on aircraft. For example, would smoke hoods have aided in survivability or are the seats designed effectively to protect people in emergency situations?
No one knows how long it will take to find answers to the hundreds of questions arising from the crash; however just as investigators in this case learned from the TWA Flight 800 case, valuable lessons from this investigation will no doubt assist in the investigation of crashes in the future.
Jennifer Reaney, NSS
Ground SAR volunteers take their commitment very seriously and for many, joining a team is the beginning of a long involvement in SAR. Recently, the RCMP in Nova Scotia honoured GSAR volunteers who have provided over 25 years of service.
Service pins and certificates for five, 10 and 20 years of service already existed, but the RCMP realized there was no formal recognition for those whose years of service exceeded 20 years.
Cpl Archie Mason, Co-ordinator of Special Projects for RCMP SAR, was asked to look into the idea of developing a 25-year volunteer service award. After considerable consultation with other Nova Scotia RCMP Incident Commanders, a decision was made to develop a military-style, long service medal.
"What we wanted was a formal and worthwhile expression of the RCMPs appreciation of what the volunteers do for this province," said Cpl Mason. Donald Bell, a goldsmith in Bedford, helped Corporal Mason design the medal, casting them in solid silver.
The process took over a year and involved both the design and minting of the medal and development of the ribbon by Toye, Kenning and Spencer Ltd of Bedworth, England. The ribbon was entered into Britains official registry of all military and service medals awarded in the commonwealth to ensure that no other agency can use the ribbon selected for these service medals.
Minted by Mr. Bell, the silver medals feature the RCMP crest and the words "Ground Search and Rescue" on the front and the points of a compass surrounding the words "25 years of faithful service" on the back.
This year, 18 people received the medals at the Nova Scotia Ground Search and Rescue Associations Annual General Meeting. With the number of volunteers in the province, the medals will be awarded to many more dedicated volunteers in future years. "What makes the medals credible is the people who receive them," says Cpl Mason.
Jennifer Reaney, NSS
It is hard to fathom the pain suffered by the families and friends of the passengers of Swissair Flight 111. Dealing first with shock and grief, then flying across oceans to arrive in Halifax, they found themselves surrounded by strangers during the most devastating time of their lives.
Swissair, Air Canada, Air Nova and Delta Airlines provided trained volunteers to protect and assist the families of crash victims. Air Novas Care Partners program ensured that families of Swissair passengers had an advocate to provide assistance during their journey to and stay in Nova Scotia.
"Everyone who participated has said that the experience changed their life," says Laurel Clark of Air Nova. "It was a very emotionally difficult experience, but most Care Partners have said theyd do it again in a minute." Care Partners performed a variety of tasks from helping families get through airports on their way to Nova Scotia, finding information and most important, providing emotional support during a devastating experience.
"The Care Partners take their cues from the families theyre paired with," Clark explains. "Some people developed great intimacy with the Care Partner and relied on them heavily during that time. Others wanted minimal assistance and no emotional connection."
Partners are matched with families based on available information (religion, language etc.). The passengers of Swissair represented a wide variety of languages and religions. Bilingual Care Partners and clergy representing all faiths were available for the families, and the Swiss-German community of Nova Scotia also helped ease communications.
Care Partners must have strong problem-solving and listening skills and above all, must be compassionate. But dealing with the pain of others takes its toll on people. To address this, all Care Partners receive counselling during a response and are never forced to participate if they find it too stressful. "Care Partners
find the experience very rewarding," says Clark. "Certainly returning to work after a response, most Care Partners find they have a new perspective on daily life and no longer sweat the small stuff."
Following the crash of TWA Flight 800, all major American airlines were regulated by the U.S. government to ensure that family members were treated well and given access to crash sites, personal effects and the remains of their loved ones. Canadian airlines are not regulated to do so, but do have programs in place to address the needs of next-of-kin.
Jennifer Reaney, NSS