Swissair 111 Ten Years Later  - a Retrospective on

Failed Fixes


Swissair probe delay sparks safety concerns

Experts: Skies still unsafe a decade after Swissair crash

Charles Mandel, Canwest News Service

Published: Saturday, August 30, 2008

HALIFAX - A decade after Swissair Flight 111 crashed off the coast of Nova Scotia, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada said more work needs to be done to satisfy the safety deficiencies identified in the 41/2 year investigation into the accident.

The McDonnell Douglas MD-11, en route to Geneva from New York City, plummeted into the ocean off Peggy's Cove on Sept. 2, 1998.

All 215 passengers and 14 crew members died in the crash.

Since the TSB released its report into the investigation, action is still needed in 18 of the 23 recommendations, said Jonathan Seymour, a TSB board member.

Seymour made his remarks at an industry safety seminar last April, but the TSB only recently made those comments available on its website.

"It's sad that Canada spent so much on this investigation and did such a tremendous job and then to have what it recommended only be implemented at glacial speed," Miles Gerety said Friday. Gerety, a public defender in Connecticut, lost his brother in the crash.

Gerety praised the TSB for its work investigating the accident, but added airline manufacturers needed to embrace all the recommendations. "I'm not at all surprised that everything they recommended hasn't been put in place."

The TSB said since the accident, substantive action has not been taken to comprehensively review the remaining types of insulation currently in use on aircraft. "Instead, regulators are relying on in-service performance to (be) the catalyst for further action," Seymour said.

"In other words, a material has to fail before action is taken."

Worn or faulty entertainment-system wiring surrounding highly flammable material led to a fire which is believed to have downed the doomed jetliner. The TSB spent $57 million on the agency's largest ever investigation and its 338-page final report came out in the spring of 2003.

Seymour criticized the failure of regulators to develop a "test regime that evaluates aircraft electrical wire failure characteristics under realistic operating conditions."

Seymour also called for a systematic approach to preventing fires during flights; one that would comprehensively identify fire zones, implement fire detection systems, provide fire-suppression equipment and systems, and require appropriate training.

Wendy Tadros, chair of the TSB, said actions have been taken in a number of areas, including raising awareness among flight crew to land immediately when there's smoke of an unknown origin. As well, all new aircraft now come with two-hour cockpit voice recorders, Tadros said Friday.

"There are still some areas where we'd like to see further improvements," she said.

Tadros acknowledged that as the 10th anniversary of the crash approached, distraught families who had lost members would once again be questioning what actions had been taken since the tragedy. "I think as a result of this thorough investigation, aviation safety has certainly been advanced," she said. "There's still more work to be done, but it's certainly been advanced."

Greg Phillips, an aviation safety consultant with insurance firm Willis Global Aviation in Washington, D.C., said anytime a large-scale investigation such as the Swissair review is carried out, regulatory authorities should carefully consider its conclusions and proposals.  from this link


Peggy's Cove remembers night of Swissair

August 29, 2008 05:00

Around 11:30 p.m. on September 2, 1998, John Campbell noticed on the news that a small Cessna aircraft hadcrashed off the coast of Peggy’s Cove.

Peggy's Cove Light-house

He’s a resident of the Nova Scotia community and owned a whale-watching boat at the time; so he gathered his crew and sailed into the darkness in search of survivors.

They were shocked to discover it was nowhere near a Cessna that had gone down.

“It was unbelievable,” he said in a phone interview from his family’s restaurant on Wednesday.

Campbell’s was one of the first boats to come across the millions of shattered pieces of airplane fuselage and human remains from the crash of Swissair Flight 111.

For the next five days he worked 24 hours a day, ensuring the Sou’Wester Restaurant and Gift Shop remained open for RCMP, recovery workers, media and family members of the victims.
The event took over the small community, he said.

RCMP closed it off to outsiders for days and even Campbell’s best friend couldn’t get in.

A makeshift morgue was erected in the middle of the village where body parts from the wreckage were collected — little consideration given to the small children in the cove.

Fuel trucks to fill the tanks of boats involved in the recovery were turned away along with city garbage trucks.

And although the event was touted as one of the most organized and coordinated responses to a large-scale emergency in Canada’s history, Campbell says he’s still disappointed with how the government treated the residents of his community.

“You know it was almost, in the end, thankless,” he said.

For years Campbell was concerned about the impact the horrific images of those first weeks may have had on his daughter — only five years old at the time.

But when it was all over, there was no de-briefing for the residents of Peggy’s Cove.

“A small community of 40 people should not have been impacted to the extreme it was,” he said.

Despite these lasting feelings, Campbell holds nothing but the fondest memories of the family members of victims he met that fall.

Every anniversary, for years after the crash, he continued to escort bereaved loved ones on his whale watching boat to the site.

“Some of them, you feel quite a connection with because of what happened,” he said.

Next Tuesday, he’ll repeat the trip out to the site — with a group of family members who lost loved ones that fateful day — and then share a meal with them at the Sou’Wester.     from this link


Former top doc returns for Swissair memorial

August 29, 2008 05:00

Two nights after the crash, the doctor was standing at the podium in one of the tents, the last to speak to family members and media after a line of officials.

Dr. John C. Butt, former chief medical examiner for Nova Scotia, is returning to Halifax today so he can take part in a memorial event for the tenth anniversary of Swissair Flight 111 at the Bayswater memorial.

 He knew he had to say something about the condition of the bodies.
“I said that I was sorry to tell them that they would never see their loved one again — which had not been said,” said Dr. John C. Butt, Nova Scotia’s former chief medical examiner.
Family members knew no one had survived the crash, but they were not aware of the condition of the bodies.
The families appreciated finally hearing the truth, he said from his office in Vancouver, where he works in forensic medicine and pathology.
On the night of Sept. 2, 1998, after the MD-11 aircraft plunged into the Atlantic, killing on impact all 229 people on board, Butt was charged with leading a team of pathologists to sort and identify the millions of pieces of human remains recovered.
The adrenaline-filled nights and days that followed linger vividly in his mind.
“When one has been involved in an incident like Swissair, I think that it doesn’t leave your mind; but that isn’t to say that it has done me any harm,” he said.
He doesn’t dwell on the tragedy in a morbid way, he said.
“There was a palpable demonstration of kindness and humanity and I was privileged to be there and participate in that,” he said.
And his demonstration of compassion during those first days has stayed with others.
“We always liked Dr. Butt,” said Miles Gerety, the brother of Pierce Gerety who was killed in the crash. “Because he cried when he spoke to us.”
Today, Dr. Butt is on his way back to Nova Scotia and will reconnect with families of the victims of Swissair Flight 111 on the tenth anniversary next Tuesday.   from this link


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