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Swissair Tragedy

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Local search team assists with recovery efforts

 COUNTY - In the days following the crash of Swissair Flight 111, Lunenburg County's Ground Search and Rescue team knew they had an important, but grisly, job to do.

 They were among the hundreds of search and rescue volunteers combing the shorelines who hoped their efforts would somehow help the families of the 229 passengers and crew killed cope with the disaster.

 "We all talked and we said we're going to do this. We have been asked to do a job and we're going to do this for those families because they need closure and we are going to help in that process," says search director Sherry Veinot.

 It was a difficult task for volunteers usually driven by hope.

 "For a lost person, your adrenaline is really pumping. You're positive. We always think positive, that someone is alive regardless of the weather or the circumstances. We try to keep that in all the searchers' minds; that that person is up and alive, but with this, you start off knowing this is not a rescue," she says.

 The Emergency Measures Organization (EMO) put the 30-member team on standby at 5:45 a.m. September 3, about seven hours after the three-engine McDonnell Douglas MD-11 plunged into the Atlantic Ocean off Peggy's Cove. It was a full day later when EMO asked the team to report to the command centre at Peggy's Cove as soon as possible.

 "Our instructions were to do shoreline searches for any articles that were there, anything that was there," says Ms Veinot. "Basically, we were taken to an island and dropped off there."

 Over four days, the team circled Little Tancook and Big Tancook twice, covering rough terrain and slippery rocks. While the search for debris and human remains from the shattered plane was emotionally and physically draining, Ms Veinot says the searchers are coping extremely well.

 "I think they've reacted excellent. We had excellent teamwork. Everyone looked after one another, even emotionally," she says. "But we were made aware that if any of our members had a problem that it would be handled professionally, that that was available for us."

 There are 22 search and rescue teams across Nova Scotia and most have contributed to recovery efforts. While searching for missing people is their top priority, search teams have other roles in the community, including responding to disasters. Members from Lunenburg County, for example, have operated command centres at forest fires and conducted evidence searches for the RCMP. For several of that team's newest members, including some as young as 16, recovery efforts for Flight 111 was their first incident. Ms Veinot was impressed with their efforts.

 "They performed their duties right alongside the more experienced members," she says.

 Last week, as recovery efforts were scaled back, the team was put on stand-by. But some members remained at the command centre to respond to calls from anyone finding debris.


Members of Lunenburg County Ground Search and Rescue have been assisting the Canadian military with ground-based searches for debris from Swissair Flight 111 over the past two weeks. Shown, from front to back at Peggy's Cove, are Newburne resident Curtis Joudrey, Bridgewater resident Chad Laird, Bridgewater resident Peter Lake, Lunenburg resident, David Risser, Martins Point resident David Tanner and Bridgewater resident Bruce Williams.

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