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Swissair Tragedy


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Editorial Comment - Commendable rescue effort



Marg Hennigar
Lighthouse staff

 Last Wednesday evening hundreds of thousands of people received a crash course in geography. A Swissair flight with 229 people on board went down in St. Margaret's Bay, not far from here. No one survived.

 With smoke in the cockpit, the pilot of the MD-11 passenger jet out of New York, heading for Switzerland, requested an emergency landing in Halifax. He did not make it and people the world over quickly learned where Nova Scotia, Halifax and Peggy's Cove are located.

 The plane either exploded or hit the water with an impact so violent the sound reverberated for miles, like the aftershock of an earthquake. We heard it in Mahone Bay, a thunder-like, unnerving sound that made our dogs growl and bark, and left us puzzling over the cause. As the horror unfolded, shock waves of grief encircled the world, touching the lives of the victims' families and friends in Europe, North America and beyond.

 One sometimes wonders if the people of Nova Scotia are properly trained to handle a major disaster. This exercise proved they are ready for almost anything. In small communities people sometimes criticize emergency organizations for wasting time and money "playing" disaster games. They disapprove of mock disasters staged to practice for emergencies, perhaps because they believe nothing really bad can ever happen here.

 It can.

 But when that plane crashed, the emergency response was immediate, complete and most impressive. Before searchers had located the wreckage, local fishermen were out on the water. They began combing the waters they know so well while every emergency and rescue organization in the area and beyond swung into action.

 Police, fire departments, military and community search and rescue teams, aircraft, ships, pleasure boats, ambulances, doctors, nurses, para-medics and every hospital in the area were either on the scene or on emergency alert. With such a well co-ordinated effort, Nova Scotians dealt with this international air-sea disaster in as efficient and professional a manner as anyone, anywhere could have hoped.

 Members of the Nova Scotia media also deserve commendation. For 12 hours or so the stage was theirs, until reporters from all over the world descended on the area. Filling hours of air time when there is little information available is no easy job, but officials stuck with the few facts they had and reporters generally kept speculation and the usual inane rhetoric to a minimum.

 The people of the South Shore know all about tragedies at sea. The memorial in Lunenburg lists the names of about 670 men who were lost at sea during all the years they have recorded such tragedies. The Swissair crash September 2, 1998, instantly added 229 names to the list of tragedies at sea.

 Nova Scotians could do nothing for the passengers and crew of Flight 111. However, they did their best to retrieve the bodies and belongings and to compassionately accommodate the grieving families. For these South Shore communities, we extend our deep and heartfelt sympathies to all the relatives and friends of the victims of this horrible tragedy off the southern coast of Nova Scotia.

Marg Hennigar


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