Can you for even one moment imagine hearing those words on the radio when you have just left your husband at the airport. He is taking a flight to Winnipeg. On the morning of June 26, 1978 my mother heard those words.
I was minding my own business working at my summer job in an office. I was thinking about moving on to university for my first year. I was excited and concerned. I was surprised when I was told I had a personal call. I didn’t receive personal calls as a rule. I picked up the phone, identified myself and waited for a response. My mother’s voice said “I guess you’ve heard about the plane crash at Toronto International.” I replied that I had but I assumed my father’s plane had missed it. Another ominous pause and my mother’s response was “no he was in it.”
Now you have to understand I was all of 19 years old. I reacted to most things emotionally. This was no exception I raced out of the room tears streaming from my eyes only to catch a glimpse of my face in a mirror. The only thought that entered my mind was that my father would be appalled. I quickly splashed cold water on my face and returned to my office. Without breaking my step I quickly said that my father had been in a plane crash and I was leaving. I have a dim recollection of a great many stunned faces not moving. I drove home. I have absolutely no recollection of the drive. Not stop signs, not stop lights and certainly no other cars. When I got home my sister and brother were already there. My sister re-parked my car.
And that’s when I heard what had happened. My mother worked in an accounting firm part time. My father worked for a large International Company that often had him flying out of town. My mother would drop him off at the airport and then take the subway into her job. She had done it a 100 times. Today seemed no different. As she was working at her desk a fellow employee walked by commenting about a plane crash. He saw the look on my mother’s face and suggested they listen to the radio for more information. The required information was not long in coming. Flight 189 to Winnipeg has crashed.
The strength of will it took for my mother to calmly state she was leaving, call her son, make her way to the subway station and spend almost an hour out of touch and waiting is incredible. My brother was at home as he was working a night shift, she explained the situation and requested he pick her up at the subway station. When the two of them were in the car with the radio on it was announced that there were two dead.
My sister was called at her work. They had already begun looking for my father. When a crisis of this magnitude hits, the media does their best to get information, the authorities protecting the victims do their best to keep things under wrap until the families can be notified. It’s tough when you have that many victims. The volume of victims needing hospitals meant that several were involved. They waited. They called hospitals. My father’s company called hospitals and the airline. Eventually he was found. He was alive. Then they called me.
I don’t know why I chose to share this with you all. My father has been gone for 8 years. My mother has been gone for three. My mother’s birthday was just a few weeks ago and my father’s birthday is just a few weeks away. Maybe I was feeling nostalgic. My father survived a plane crash but he did have a broken back. He said that everyone knew what was about to happen and as he’d flown enough he knew what to do and he made sure the people around him did as well. He had a similar crash in World War II. As he said he was younger and got out quicker.
My parents lived through this with grace and integrity. My mother moved in with my sister to be closer to my father while he was in hospital. Her words “I need to be closer to my husband.” They loved each other, plain and simple. I admired that, I still do.
I learned a great deal that day: I am stronger than I think I am, our emergency responders are the best! and ordinary people with rise to the occasion when needed. I also recognized that emotions can paralyze you but they can be controlled. I have great role models to live up to, even now.
An excerpt from Wikipedia:
During take-off at 8:15 a.m. one of the McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32‘s tires burst and partially disintegrated, firing chunks of rubber into the landing gear mechanism. This set off an “unsafe gear” warning, prompting the pilot to abort the take-off. The aircraft, however, was already two thirds along the length of runway 23L and travelling at 154 knots (285 km/h). It could not stop before the end of the runway, and plunged off the edge of an embankment still travelling at 60 knots (110 km/h), eventually coming to a rest in the Etobicoke Creek ravine. The plane broke in three pieces, but despite its full load of fuel did not catch fire. The accident was visible from Highway 401, which runs alongside the south side of the airport.
The plane was destroyed and two passengers were killed.