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1998: Swissair 111 crashes off Nova Scotia

At 10:31 p.m. on Sept. 2, 1998, many Nova Scotians felt their homes tremble as Swissair 111 smashed into the waters off Peggy's Cove, killing all 229 people on board. Years later, this remains, in part, a Canadian tragedy. Although only four Canadians were killed on the flight, the crash of Swissair 111 had an enduring impact in Canada. Local fishermen led the search for survivors, residents welcomed the victims' families and the names of the dead are etched in stone monuments on the coast.

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Late in the evening of September 2, 1998, a McDonnell Douglas MD-11 passenger plane bound for Geneva crashed into the ocean a few kilometres off the shore Peggy's Cove, N.S. Despite a desperate rescue effort by emergency workers and local fishermen, all 229 people aboard the Swissair flight perished. This special CBC News report looks at the events leading up to the crash of Swissair 111 and the frantic, but futile, search for survivors.
• Swissair flight 111 crashed about eight kilometres off the shore of Peggy's Cove just after 10:30 p.m. AT. The plane was travelling at nearly 550 kilometres an hour when it hit the water and shattered into approximately two million pieces.

• The noise from the crash shook homes and woke many residents in the scenic seaside town and nearby Blandford. Dozens of fisherman from the towns headed out in their boats to rescue survivors.

• This clip from The National was broadcast the day after the crash and featured anchor Peter Mansbridge on location in Peggy's Cove.

• Of the 215 passengers and 14 crew members who died in the crash 137 were American, 39 were Swiss and 30 were from France. Among the 23 others were four Canadians: Yves DeRoussan, a Québécois who was employed with UNICEF, George Abady, a dual citizen of Canada and Morocco and Evelyn and Isabelle Jegge, a mother and daughter returning home after accompanying son and brother Alexander Jegge to Regis University in Colorado.

• Swissair 111 left New York's JFK Airport at 9:17 p.m. on Wednesday, September 2. Fifty-seven minutes into the flight its pilot radioed air traffic control in Moncton, N.B. to report smoke in the cabin.

• The three-engine passenger plane was diverted to the nearby Halifax Airport, where it would attempt an emergency landing. A subsequent investigation by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada showed that on their approach to Halifax, the pilots circled around to lose altitude.

• As they circled Peggy's Cove the pilots had to dump fuel from their tanks, which were too full making it dangerous to land. As they headed for open water around 10:20 p.m., the cabin crew switched off all non-essential power as part of the regular procedure for a smoke-related incident.

• Seconds after, the plane's autopilot shut down and the pilot's screens went blank. Left on their own in a pitch-black sky, the pilots were unable to control the plane's path.

• Swissair flight 111 was a MD-11, a McDonnell-Douglas passenger plane that first took flight in 1990 as a replacement for the popular DC-10.

• Swissair's only other fatal accident occurred in Oct. 1979 when a DC-8 cargo plane crashed outside Athens, Greece killing 14 people.

• Swissair 111's plane had flown some 6,000 trips since it was unveiled in 1991.

• Within hours of the crash Swissair apologized and promised the families of the survivors a minimum of $20,000 US in compensation.

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Sept. 3, 1998
Guest(s): Roy Bears, Benoît Bouchard, Gerry Harrish , Russell McClellan, Frank Skidmore
Anchor: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Tom Kennedy, Eric Sorensen
Duration: 7:38

Last updated: February 3, 2012

Page consulted on September 15, 2014

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