'Changed forever': Nightmares torment Air Canada crash passenger

Robert Cole boarded an Air Canada flight from Toronto to Halifax 782 days ago, and he still has nightmares that he's on the plane as it crashed during a snowstorm at Halifax Stanfield International Airport.

Robert Cole says new TSB report on 2015 crash at Halifax airport has done little to ease his distress

Robert Cole says he's suffered many sleepless nights since the 2015 plane crash. (CBC)

Robert Cole boarded an Air Canada flight from Toronto to Halifax 782 days ago, and he still has nightmares that he's on the plane as it crashed during a snowstorm at Halifax Stanfield International Airport.

"I dream about the plane crash every night. Sometimes multiple times a night. My rule of thumb is that if I have that dream before 3:30 a.m., I try to go back to sleep," he told CBC News Thursday. "If I have the dream after 3:30 a.m., I just get up."

When he gets up, he does yard work or reads books until the sun rises and he can start his day.

He said Thursday's release of the Transportation Safety Board's findings on the March 29, 2015, crash of Flight 624 didn't bring him much peace of mind. He'll have a few good nights, but then go three or four days with barely any rest.

Thought he was about to die

"I'd never had any type of sleep deprivation before. I can't believe how difficult it makes your life. I have a new respect for mothers with newborns," he said.

Cole, who lives in Upper Rawdon, N.S., thought he was going to die as the plane hit power lines and slammed into the ground 200 metres short of the runway. The jet bounced up through a navigation antenna, smashed into the ground again, and skidded onto the runway.

The crash destroyed the plane and injured more than two dozen people. Cole's only worry was if he'd taken out enough life insurance to provide for his wife.

Air Canada Flight 624 crashed in Halifax on March 29, 2015. (Transportation Safety Board)

Cole, who is part of a class-action lawsuit related to the crash, said what happened has changed him.

He's seen psychiatrists and psychologists, but hasn't shaken the impact. It has affected his work as the national director of sales for a computer company. "There have been incidents where I should have been other places, but I couldn't go. Or maybe I should say I wouldn't go, because I'm not getting on a plane again."

He said he's always been a take-charge person, to the extent that he once asked an ambulance driver if he could drive himself to hospital. So it was never easy to trust someone else to fly the plane.

"I'm just not comfortable unless I'm the one in charge — or at least I wasn't. I'm not like that any more."

He still drives, but avoids big highways.

'We did go through a terrible experience'

The plane also suffered internal damage in the crash. (Transportation Safety Board)

Nothing in the TSB report restored his confidence in Air Canada. "Absolutely not. Absolutely not," he said. "It would take a lot to get my trust back in Air Canada."

The TSB found poor visibility, reduced airfield lighting and the approach procedures used by the pilots that night led to the crash.

Since the crash, Air Canada has provided its pilots with more specific recommendations on "required visual references for landing approaches," has warned them on the limitations of the autopilot and vertical navigation, and now requires the pilots to monitor instruments during all approaches when below a certain descent altitude.

"They corrected a problem that should've never — in my opinion, being a lay person — that should have never been there in the first place," Cole said. "I would assume, anybody would assume, that they're checking those altitudes and distances constantly. How many other things are happening that you and I would assume are being checked on that aren't?"

Class-action lawsuit

Lawyer Ray Wagner filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs in the spring of 2015. It was later certified.

More than two dozen people were injured in the crash, and almost all of the 133 passengers had to spend about 50 minutes on the tarmac, huddled against a blizzard, before they were taken to an unheated hangar, the lawsuit alleges.

Cole is part of the lawsuit and said he and others deserve compensation for the ordeal they went through.

"We did go through a terrible experience and for some of us, our lives have changed forever."

With files from Paul Emile d'Entremont, Cassie Williams and Jon Tattrie