Halifax plane 'incident' thoughts and reflections.

FACT: Early on March 29th, 2015 there was an airplane ‘incident’ at the Halifax airport.
FACT: It was an Air Canada flight from Toronto to Halifax.
FACT: There was a snow storm at the time.
FACT: Everyone survived.

Almost everything else is currently unconfirmed.

There are a lot of questions out there. Speculation. Guessing. Varying Reports. Accusations and accolades.

Why is this important to me?

I am a survivor of a plane crash. Not an ‘incident’, not a hard landing, not a mis-hap. I survived a plane crash in December 1997 in Fredericton, NB.

Details on the crash from Wikipedia: Air Canada Flight 646 Crash in Fredericton, NB.

Excerpt from MacLean’s Canadian Encyclopedia.

Full story here.

It took emergency crews about 20 minutes to reach the crash site – about one kilometre from the terminal – a response time that Transport Canada says was reasonable given the snow, fog and darkness. But for the passengers – some of whom began to walk towards the terminal before the rescue team arrived while others huddled in the woods – it seemed like an eternity. Kitchen recalls that there was a smell of jet fuel, prompting fears the plane might explode. She could also hear cries from inside the plane, where at least six people remained pinned under seats and debris.

 

It took until 2:30 a.m. to free the last of the passengers. In all, 35 people were treated for injuries ranging from broken limbs to cuts and bruises. At week’s end, nine remained in hospital. Meanwhile, Air Canada offered all passengers $5,000 for their “trauma and stress” – a move some lawyers saw as an attempt to ward off lawsuits.

 

As traumatic as the experience had been, for most of the survivors last week was also a time to count blessings. Said Kitchen: “At this point, you have to move forward.”

Maclean’s

December 29, 1997

I have a different take on all Halifax’s March 29th incident than *most* of the general public and over 17 years of healing from the life changing experience to give me perspective from a lot of different angles.

What I can tell you is this …

It is a scary, unimaginable situation where you have no control over anything and no idea what is happening. And, it is happening fast … in the blink of an eye, in the flash of a light … Adrenaline kicks in and then shortly after, you go into shock. Some people get overwhelmed and cry, some people are eerily calm, protecting themselves by not talking and some go into ‘help others’ mode.

My immediate reaction when the plane stopped was to get out as fast as possible. I bolted for the nearest exit, waited while someone opened the door and I was the second or third person off the plane. I didn’t stop to look around, to think about anyone else, I just got out of dodge. Once outside of the plane with my heart pumping, my knees shaking and my teeth chattering, I wondered if the plane would explode. Would another plane coming in for landing do the same thing?

Surprising, even to myself, after we crashed in Fredericton. I went into ‘help others’  mode. Trees had torn through the side of the plane, pinning people in their seats. I exited the aircraft, slid down the wing and stood outside in the freezing winter weather for awhile … in shock.

Then, not really thinking clearly, I decided to return back into the aircraft to see if there was anything I could do to help. I was oddly calm, but functioning almost in an out of body experience kind of way. When I saw the few people who were injured and pinned in the plane, moaning and crying in pain, I left my scarf / hat / mittens to help keep someone warm and then exited as there was a nurse there and she told me I really couldn’t help.

I remember my crash it like it was yesterday. I remember it even more vividly because of the crash at the Halifax airport March 29th that had many similarities to the crash that I had been in. A week later when I’m actually posting this blog … all of it is still heavy in my head and heart. And, less than two weeks from now I’ll be back on a plane headed to Argentina. Anxiety will start a couple of days before and this is 17 years after my crash.

As I look back to 17 years ago, I know now that returning to the aircraft was a ridiculous idea but when you are in shock your reasoning functions don’t really work so well.

As I heard passengers fresh off the tarmac from the Halifax incident speaking to the media about their experience I cringe, as I know that they too, are likely in shock and not thinking clearly. They don’t even realize it at the time as their bodies are still functioning on adrenaline. Time frames of events are thrown off, five minutes feels like an hour and then media begins launching question after question at you looking for answers that you simply can’t provide.

I get it, I know that media needs to cover these events. I know that everyone (including myself) wants to know what happened. But, the truth is that very few facts are known and there is so much speculation at this point. And, just in case you don’t realize this, just because someone was on the plane, it does not mean they know the facts!

Did it crash? Was it a hard-landing? Was it pilot error? Air-control error? Did the pilots save everyone with their skills or endanger them with a poor decision to land? Why did it take so long for people to be rescued?

This list of questions goes on.

For example, I saw today that someone was calling the pilots heroes for landing the plane and everyone getting off safely with only minor injuries.

I am thankful from the bottom of my heart that everyone is safe. I feel the overwhelming emotions even now that I felt nearly 20 years ago. I have shared this horrific experience with them, on a different date.

With my crash, it was actually deemed to be pilot error that caused the crash (involuntarily), but it took the Transportation Safety Board nearly a year to do a full report on this.

For those saying the pilots are heroes … maybe they are, maybe they aren’t.
And, for those criticizing the decision to land … well, it is an easy criticism to make as an on-looker, but no one knows all the details. Sure it was a snow storm and bad conditions, but were they acceptable conditions to land? Had other planes landed? Was someone on board ill and they needed to land? Were they running out of fuel? Maybe not, maybe it was just a bad decision … but we simply don’t know, so … why don’t we just hang tight, let the investigators do their job rather than guessing? Why is it that so many people who are on the outside have to stick their noses into everything, start pointing fingers and name-calling?

Initially with my crash, media stated that we ‘slid off the runway’. Nice, gentle wording suggesting that we had touched down and maybe hit some ice, which led us off the runway.

What actually happened is we lost power BEFORE touching down, a wing clipped the ground and we went careening through a field with small hills off to the side of the runway, leaving behind a trail of fuselage and becoming airborne once or twice from the speed of the plane and the size of the hills.

I don’t know this so much because I remember it; I only remember fearing for my life. I remember the initial violent jolt when I (and everyone knew) that something was wrong. Was that the wing breaking off? Was it us hitting the ground? It happened in a split second and we had no warning, so there was no way that I could have been paying attention to exactly what caused it. I didn’t know that the wing hit the ground and broke off until I saw it in the media, but even then it wasn’t determined in what ordered the parts had been ripped from the plane.

I remember holding on for my life and wondering if it was ever going to end and would I live through it? I remember the up and down motion and the violent beating we took while being thrown around like rag dolls, all while buckled in place.

I can only tell you my own personal experience which is different for each individual. Everyone has a different perspective literally and figuratively. A different perspective based on their personality, but also different based on where they were seated on the plane and what they could see.

Keep in mind, that the crash I was in was different than the one in Halifax, but there are an incredible number of similarities. My plane had fewer people, but more severe injuries. Both planes clipped a wing at some point. Both were landing in questionable weather

I would just like to say that it is a horrible, unimaginable experience. Although I understand it is the media’s job to report on this big news event, when you read all of the information out there remember that passengers were in shock, scared and overwhelmed. They may or may not remember events correctly and they could only see out tiny windows … In my experience in 1997 it was a crash, not a hard landing … there was much more damage and people were seriously injured, however no one was killed. I wouldn’t be surprised if this one is also eventually deemed a ‘crash’, however it is not for me to decide and it may not be determined for a year!

I am pleading with people to lay off the negativity, name calling and telling everyone what a horrible job they did.

Why weren’t people brought in from the cold sooner?

Well … I hate to tell you, but the incident wasn’t planned. Unless pilots advised in advance that they were in trouble (which would only have been moments before), then all staff assumed they were on track to land as per normal. You can’t plan to rescue people that you don’t know need rescuing! You can have rules in place for if it happens but it still takes time to put it all into action.

So think about it; plane crashes, staff have to determine where exactly the plane is, put the call out to first responders and get them to that location … I’m positive this happens very quickly. However, with the Halifax incident, it was IN A SNOW STORM and WITHOUT POWER at the airport. There’s not an easy path plowed and God doesn’t part the snow so that the driver can see the whole way there. First responders don’t teleport (just in case you didn’t know).

When my plane crashed we ended about 300 meters (1000 feet) off the runway, stopped by trees that ripped through the first five rows of seats. Some passengers got lost in the woods and were missing for awhile. Many of us walked through knee to hip-deep snow to the edge of the runway where we could see the lights. In our case, we had simply disappeared off the runway and no one (at the airport) really knew why. They may have activated first responders quickly, but it wasn’t immediately known where to send them. So yes, I too, was out in the cold, dressed poorly for winter, standing in the snow, in shock waiting for someone to rescue me, when they didn’t even know for sure that we needed rescuing. I still feel like I was there for hours, but reports say that responders were on scene in 20 minutes. Shock does weird things to you.

Lucky for those of us who were able to trudge through the snow to the runway, when we made it there, we piled into cargo vans (or at least a group of us did) where we were shuttled back to the airport terminal and placed in some sort of cargo room and told not to leave. For those who were still on the plane, it was hours before they could clear a path through the deep snow to the plane to get heavy equipment there to extract people who were pinned into the plane.

I know it is easy to judge and to say that the first responders should have attended to passengers first, but if that plane (Halifax) had exploded they all would have been dead. Don’t you think it’s important that the situation is totally under control primarily?

Sure, I wanted better response times during my crash too, but sometimes circumstances get in the way. Sometimes human error gets in the way. But, don’t forget for a second that everyone responding was doing so with concern for the safety of all involved. They are not doing so with mal-intentions and are doing their best to do what they can.

Thank you to first responders and staff who pitched in to do what they could for my plane crash in Fredericton in 1997 and for those on March 29th, 2015 in Halifax. I’m sure improvements could be made, but difficult situations are never ‘perfect examples’. Doing a test run of an emergency never plays out exactly like an unexpected emergency. All you can do is your best. So thank you to those who responded with their best. Please stop picking on them for doing their jobs as best they could while you watch from the sidelines.

Having been through a very similar situation it is incredibly hard to watch this in the news all over again, but it is impossible to avoid. It happened. It cannot and should not be erased. Although I would never wish a plane crash on anyone, it is a huge factor in so many ways of the person I have become and, to tell you the truth … I kind of like me. I am not glad that I was in a plane crash, but I am glad that I’ve become who I am.

2 thoughts on “Halifax plane 'incident' thoughts and reflections.

  1. Thanks for sharing. I was wondering how you were doing after hearing about this incident. Hugs from afar. Wendy

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