Plane crash survivor concerned about heroes' health
Rescuers of passengers from flaming wreck may suffer from untreated stress
The survivor of a 2011 Vancouver plane crash is concerned that some of the people who saved the lives of passengers have not received counselling and could be suffering from untreated post-traumatic stress disorder.
Carolyn Cross was among the seven passengers aboard a two-engine aircraft on a scheduled flight from Vancouver to Kelowna, B.C., in October 2011. The pilots tried to get the plane back to Vancouver airport shortly after takeoff when it developed a mechanical problem, but it crashed on a public road short of the runway.
The aircraft was quickly engulfed in flames, but passersby still ran to the wreck and pulled the passengers out.
"I got somehow near the back of the door. But I couldn't get out. And these amazing hands lifted me out," Cross said.
Those hands belonged to Simon Pearce.
"I pulled her to the middle of the road about 30 feet from the plane," Pearce said during a recent meeting with Cross.
Pearce and the others had to watch helplessly as the plane continued to burn with the two pilots trapped in the cockpit.
"Imagine watching for 20 minutes, these poor pilots being extracted," Cross said. "Your heart goes out because you couldn't do anything."
The pilots were eventually pulled out of the aircraft by firefighters, but later died in hospital from their severe burns.
Cross suffered Head injuries, a fractured spine, broken ribs and damaged knees in the crash, and still has trouble walking.
Pearce and Cross said they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and both have sought professional help to deal with it. But they fear other civilian rescuers have not received that kind of therapy.
"I'm concerned that there is nothing in place for this sort of stress," said Pearce.
"Nobody approached them about counselling," she said.
After the crash, the survivors wanted the rescuer-heroes to be commended, but officials refused to tell the passengers who had saved them.
"The frustration was because of all these privacy rules," said Cross. "We couldn't actually contact or know who we were."
But the survivors and their civilian rescuers did find each other and have gathered as a group twice since the crash.
"I know meeting with the other rescuers certainly helped me," Pearce said.
It also helped Cross.
"It was so healing. We could finally begin that point of closure," she said.
Cross and Pearce also produced a pamphlet for firefighters and police to give to civilians involved in disasters to warn them about possible PTSD.
"I've seen my worst fear come to life and I am definitely dealing mentally with that," Pearce said.
With files from the CBC's Natalie Clancy