Memorial to honour victims of 1970 Air Canada crash
Investigators survey the damage of Air Canada flight 621 that crashed at Toronto's Pearson International Airport on July 5, 1970, killing 109 passengers. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Saturday, July 3, 2010 1:58PM EDT
BRAMPTON, Ont. - The shadow came first, passing over the farmhouse where 13-year-old Lynne Genova was waking up as her parents busied themselves with morning chores.
Then came a bang. Then another, and Genova says that one "shook the earth."
Moments later, Air Canada Flight 621 crashed into a ravine winding through a farmer's field just shy of Pearson International Airport. One hundred and nine peopled died when the DC-8 fell from a clear blue sky, just after 8 a.m. on July 5, 1970.
On Sunday -- 40 years later -- more than 100 people will gather at the site of the crash, as a memorial garden is dedicated to the victims by developers who are turning the land into a subdivision.
For many, the site was long forgotten as suburbs slowly crept toward it. But for the friends and families of the victims, the past four decades were framed in an agonizing moment.
"My childhood ended that day," says Genova, now 53, who watched as local gawkers flooded her parents' farm to catch a glimpse of the tragedy.
The plane was on en route from Montreal to Los Angeles, making a stop in Toronto when pilot error caused a landing malfunction. The plane lost an engine, and jolted back up into the sky as the pilots attempted to recover it.
They fought with the plane for three minutes before it crashed in the farming village of Castlemore, just west of Toronto, now part of Brampton.
"Pete, sorry," said First Officer Don Rowland, who had misjudged the landing flaps and caused the initial crash.
"All right," replied Capt. Peter Hamilton. It was done.
Soon Lynda Fishman, then 13 and visiting her grandparents in Los Angeles, heard the news.
Her 39-year-old mother Rita, and younger sisters Carla and Wendy, were on that flight heading from Montreal to join her.
At first she thought it was a nightmare. Then she heard her father's wails, and the nightmare became her life.
Lynda's mother and sisters were identified through body parts. They were buried in Montreal, but pieces of her family remained at the site. Wendy's doll was photographed hanging in a tree.
Her father never recovered. While he died of cancer in 1999, she says, he lost his life that day.
She managed to move forward, eventually marrying, moving to Thornhill Ont., and having kids.
Recently she wrote a book about her experience, called Repairing Rainbows. But still, she recalls that day with tears.
"Those wounds are still raw," Fishman says. "You never get over such a tragedy."
More than a half-acre of land has been officially designated as a cemetery, where 109 stones will be erected to remember the lives lost.
The stones will be put in place over the next two years, says Diarmuid Horgan, president of Candevcon Ltd., the engineering consulting firm in charge of the land's development.
Horgan says the families and friends of the victims have been supportive of their efforts to create the memorial.
In terms of lives lost, Flight 621 was the second largest crash in Canadian history. In 1963, a Trans-Canada Airlines flight crashed north of Montreal, killing 118 people.
Relatives of those killed on Flight 621 are critical of the way Air Canada handled the tragedy.
"Neglect," says Fishman. "Complete neglect."
Fishman says a letter mailed to her father 10 days after the plane crash did not mention the words "sorry" or "apologize" once.
"It was almost like a form letter, as if he had lost luggage," she says.
"And while they say now that they are a different company -- when you buy a company, you buy its history."
Air Canada dedicated a memorial to the crash victims at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto.
An Air Canada spokesperson said a representative would attend Sunday's memorial "out of respect for all those who lost their lives in the tragedy as well as their surviving relatives."
Fishman says, as far as she is concerned, they are not welcome at the private memorial.
The company would not comment further.
Michael Holiday was 19 when his father, Claude, died in the crash.
"He was my best friend," Holiday recalls. Eventually he managed to move on, but he watched his mother Joan suffer until her death.
To most people, he says, the tragedy was forgotten. But hopefully now, at least, people will remember what happened.
"It seems like no one has ever cared," he says.