A delegation of Canadian military veterans, RCMP officers and first responders gathered in Nova Scotia Sunday to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Canada’s response to the deadly crash of Swissair Flight 111.
Veterans Affairs Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor told participants she wanted to thank soldiers, police, firefighters and community members who rushed to help after the crash.
“On the night of Sept. 2, so many of you rushed into the darkness without even the slightest, slightest hesitation,” Petitpas Taylor said at the Peggy’s Cove Swissair Memorial in Indian Harbour, N.S.
The MD-11 passenger jet plunged into the waters near Peggy’s Cove, N.S., on Sept. 2, 1998, during a flight from New York to Geneva, Switzerland, killing all 229 people on board.
Steven Harris, assistant deputy minister of Veteran’s Affairs, told the ceremony the event was about commemoration, remembrance and healing.
“The lives of those who sought to help, to comfort, to make sense of this tragedy were changed forever,” he said.
Family members of some of the crash victims also participated in the ceremony.
Lt.-Col. John O’Donnell was a Canadian Armed Forces chaplain who was dispatched to Nova Scotia 25 years ago to support military members participating in the recovery effort dubbed Operation Persistence but was soon redeployed to help comfort family members of crash victims. He said he found reminders of resilience and hope during that period.
Relatives wanted to go down the shore of Peggy’s Cove to offer flowers and mementos in memory of their loved ones but were not allowed to, he said. Instead, they would approach the shore—one family at a time—and a firefighter would take their memento to the water.
“I remember being struck by how carefully and tenderly the firefighter held the flowers that had been passed to him. He cradled them in his arms and he walked down to the water’s edge, he paused in prayer for a moment, he tossed the flowers into the waves and then he removed his helmet and he put it on his chest,” O’Donnell said. “Nobody told him to do that, he just did it…the simplest gestures are often the most meaningful.”
Petitpas Taylor led a candlelight tribute to victims of the disaster at another Memorial site on Saturday night.