Section 6


The Human Side of IASA



As we set out in the Foreword, in an arena dominated by regulatory and commercial interests, a force was needed that could work through the myriad of technical data and make a meaningful contribution to that debate whilst tending to the human issues that aviation safety encompasses. For this reason, IASA has tackled humanitarian issues that are as critical as the technical issues we have confronted and championed.


6.1 The Chief Medical Examiner & Ray’s Wedding Ring


Lyn had dealings with Dr. John Butt, Nova Scotia's Chief Medical Examiner, soon after the crash and learned the hard way that even the most simple of requests would be dealt with in what she considered to be a less than compassionate manner. Her husband’s wedding ring, inscribed with the words ‘Love Lyn 10/3/81’ was to become the subject of a bitter battle with the Chief Medical Examiner.


Lyn knew the ring would be recovered in spite of those who counselled that it would never be recovered. When it was recovered, it seemed that finding it was the easy part. Getting the Chief Medical Examiner to part with it was another matter entirely.


In his wisdom, the Chief Medical Examiner had deemed that the ring was evidence and accordingly it could not be released. Suffice it to say, Lyn made her position equally clear:


‘If need be I’ll bring CNN with me when I head to Nova Scotia and I’ll “chain myself” to Shearwater’s fence. If necessary I will rent an apartment in Halifax and be away from my family for six months if that’s what it takes.’


Several members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were instrumental in ‘assisting’ the Chief Medical Examiner to reconsider and the ring was returned to its new owner.


Lyn would like to thank those who stepped in on her behalf and made it possible for her to obtain what was rightfully hers.


6.2 The Identification of Human ‘Remains’


It is an aspect of an aircraft crash that is rarely discussed in the full glare of the media, however, in the case of Swissair 111 Lyn had no choice other than to tackle this issue in this manner, especially due to the media’s often gruesome and unrelenting fascination with this very difficult aspect of the crash.


We accept that there needs to be certainty that the victims of an aircraft crash are identified, however, how far should identification go? Is it the case, that we merely confirm the victims’ identities? Or is the case, that we should use those resources in respect of every human ‘remain’ that is recovered? This has been the source of the most trauma for Lyn and her family and to IASA as an organization. It is a debate that has a strong odour of costs benefit analysis[9] about it.


The discovery of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, the deciphering of its structure, and the decoding of its genetic information marked a seminal moment.  In the case of the September 11th terrorist atrocities in New York, an abandoned 3000-acre landfill on Staten Island, N.Y., known as Fresh Kills, became the country’s largest DNA lab. The Department of Forensic Biology in the Office of Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) in New York search for the tiniest remnants of human tissue, teeth and even hair to aid the identification process. The OCME extracts the DNA from each of the remains recovered, and those extracts are then shipped off to the DNA typing and profiling labs.[10]


Each of the remains recovered. Each.


So why were the same standards not applied in respect of the two hundred and twenty-nine people who perished aboard Swissair 111? Why was it decided that once those on board were identified and the more significant remains were typed and profiled were the balance of human remains worthy only of a mass grave?


Dignity. Dignity is an issue that has driven Lyn throughout this horror. Not her personal dignity but the dignity of those whose shattered bodies were scooped up from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. There will be those who may find our use of language harsh, however, the realities of an aircraft crash are harsh and harsh decisions are made by those who wield the power of yes and no.


A mass grave is harsh and in our opinion lacks the dignity that all those on board Swissair 111 deserved.


Sadly, not even the intervention of Cardinal John O’Connor of the New York Diocese proved successful. As CNN remarked in their tribute to Cardinal O’Connor at his death on May 4th 2000 he was ‘a national figure, sought out by U.S. presidential candidates and world leaders and considered Pope John Paul II's most important American ally. Lyn sought Cardinal O’Connor’s help in February 1999 and he was moved to lend whatever assistance he could in getting the Chief Medical Examiner to listen to her pleas.


Much to her shock, she was granted a one-on-one meeting with Cardinal O’Connor in June of that year. She can never put into words how touched she was then and how touched she remains to this day.


Unfortunately, Lyn did not succeed in her battle for dignity in this respect; however, she used every resource at her disposal in trying to.


We would like to express here our eternal gratitude to Cardinal John O’Connor for his compassion and humanity. The private counsel and public steps he took on her family’s behalf were a light in what was otherwise darkness.


May Cardinal O’Connor rest in peace.


6.3 A Most Valuable Cargo


But there was another, seemingly more valuable cargo and as with the DNA issue and Ray’s wedding ring, was to cause much pain not only to Lyn and her family but to others who lost loved ones.


Swissair 111 was not only carrying passengers but also one kilogram of diamonds and 4.8 kilograms of jewelry worth $300 million on behalf of the jeweller of jewellers Harry Winston. Lloyds of London, a group IASA met on November 30th 1999 in between meetings at the House of Commons and the UK Civil Aviation Authority, albeit on an unrelated matter, insured the consignment. In the spring of 2000 it emerged Lloyds of London had requested permission to search the crash site in an effort to recover this most valuable cargo.


IASA mounted a vocal and vigorous objection on humanitarian grounds and later that month Lloyds of London issued a statement claiming that it would never mount a dive at the site.


There were those in the media who supported the proposed dive, after all, the Province of Nova Scotia would be able to claim 10% in fiscal terms of any such recovered cargo. As a ‘journalist’ wrote in The Daily News[11]:


Natural Resources Minister Ernie Fage had better think twice before rejecting more than £30 million in provincial revenue out of ill-considered sympathy for relatives of those who died aboard Swissair 111.


Ill-considered sympathy on whose part? The Natural Resources Minister or The Daily News?


Such persons clearly lacked the necessary compassion to realize that the Ocean floor crash-site was and is considered sacred ground to those left behind. To some, including Lyn, their cargo was far more valuable than Harry Winston’s.


Dignity was again at stake.


6.4 The Memorial


We are all different. It is those differences that make the world an interesting place. This country is one where freedom of speech is a cornerstone of our way of life and where the rights of an individual are not readily discounted.


Different people have different ideals; they have their unique aspirations, needs and history. Free will is something our society encourages us to attain. Yet in the case of plans to erect a monument near the site of the Swissair crash, it seems an individual’s rights were viewed as confrontational and an unnecessary distraction.


This is what we do. There is a tragedy. We wear black and we erect a monument. We mourn and then we move on. Closure and Denial are the present day wonder cures for all that is wrong with the world. We follow suit otherwise we are perceived as strange, unreasonable, difficult or in need of professional intervention. Why exactly is that?


Those we love are individuals. We know them. That is what love is all about. So in order to represent them, our reference is them. We have to do all that we can to ensure that their wishes, as we know by virtue of our relationship with them, are carried out. That is what we should do. It is the right thing to do. Isn’t it?


Why is it then that Lyn was regarded as strange, unreasonable, difficult or in need of professional intervention when she asked that Ray’s name not be etched into the memorial stone. She was not objecting to others’ wishes and rights to erect a monument to their loved ones. She was exercising Ray’s wishes to the best of her abilities and knew that he would not want his name there. It really is that simple.


Lyn had to enlist the assistance of Judge Lorne Clarke and after many agonising months received confirmation that her husband Ray’s name would not appear at the memorial. Lyn was not alone though.


Tara Fetherolf was sixteen when she took her seat on Swissair 111. Tara’s parents, Barbara and Mark Fetherolf, also successfully blocked attempts to have her name etched on the memorial.


Barbara has become an aviation safety advocate in her own right and has acted as a conduit for the dissemination of vast amounts of aviation safety data that would have otherwise remain scattered across the Internet. We have always held Barbara in the highest possible terms and esteem and she has proved to be an enduring source of support for Lyn on a personal basis. We take this opportunity to commend Barbara both on a professional and a personal level.

[9] See Section 2.9 Above

[10] Criminalistics Richard Saferstein Eight Edition, Pearson Educational International.

[11] Diamonds in the Rough. May 21st 2000. The Daily News.