By James Keller
HALIFAX (CP) - Eight years ago, Patricia
Eberhart's name appeared in newspapers around
the world, one of 229 people killed after
Swissair Flight 111 crashed into waters off Nova
The 51-year-old flight attendant from New
York City was among the passengers and crew who
died when an electrical fire brought down the
MD-11 jetliner near Peggy's Cove on Sept. 2,
The Swissair disaster was covered in detail
by international news media, with graphic
descriptions of the crash scene and extensive
coverage of the ensuing investigation.
But Ivy Bannister, Eberhart's sister, says
many of the personal stories connected to the
crash were lost.
Bannister tells her family's story -
elevating her sister's death from simply a name
on a list - in Blunt Trauma, a non-fiction
narrative released earlier this year.
"It was so unreal so as to be unbelievable to
find out by radio of the death of your closest
blood relative, and to be reliant upon the media
for an understanding of the details of what
happened," says Bannister, who is in Nova Scotia
for the anniversary of her sister's death.
"I think that's why I was so obsessed with
giving a public event private meaning. You do
feel that these public events will never affect
Blunt Trauma - a title inspired by the
official cause of death listed on Eberhart's
death certificate - follows Bannister's family
for a year after the crash.
Bannister recalls how she spent months in New
York caring for her 80-year-old mother, and
Eberhart's death put a strain on their already
The book also reveals what went through
Bannister's mind as she learned more about the
crash, including reading the graphic coroner's
report that described what was left of
Eberhart's battered body.
"When your life is coloured by something like
this, everything looks different," Bannister
said in an interview. "For a couple of years,
the smell of smoke alone was enough to move me
from wherever I was in my head to a place I
never was, which was at the site of the crash,
the smoking ocean."
The plane was flying at night from New York
to Geneva when smoke filled the cockpit,
prompting the pilots to dump fuel before
attempting an emergency landing in Halifax.
Less than 20 minutes later, the jet slammed
into the ocean.
Canadian investigators later concluded the
fire was linked to an in-flight entertainment
system, which included a gambling program.
Wires connected to the system or another
source short-circuited, igniting a fire that
spread to adjacent insulation, causing a
catastrophic system failure.
"I was never really angry about what had
happened until I thought that it might be an
entertainment system that had been the cause,"
"It's better to feel that there was some
ghastly mistake or some horrible event that
caused this. It's harder to accept that the
desire to make a lot of bucks by introducing a
gambling system to airplane travellers was a
good enough reason for all these people to have
Bannister's current trip to Nova Scotia,
which was to include a visit to one of the
Swissair memorials, marks the first time she's
been here since 1999, when a ceremony was held
for victims' families a year after the crash.
She recalls the significance of the event in
"The memorial was not, I thought, about
closure at all. How could there be closure, when
lives had been changed forever?" Bannister
"It was acknowledging what had been too
public a death. Now mourning, and the struggle
to rebuild lives could continue privately."
Seven years later, she says the release of
her book has been the closest to closure she
thinks she'll get.
"Writing a book made no difference, but
putting it into the public domain somehow took
it out of the immediate realm of my experience,"
says Bannister. "I could now smell smoke without
thinking of the airplane."