It's been 15 years since Swissair Flight 111 crashed into the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean off Nova Scotia, killing all 229 people on board.

At 10:31 p.m. on Sept. 2, 1998, Nova Scotians near the coast felt their homes tremble as the McDonnell Douglas MD-11 passenger plane bound for Geneva, Switzerland smashed into the water a few kilometres off the shore of Peggys Cove.

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Nancy Hausman travels all the way from Illinois nearly every year to pay her respects to her son Thomas. (CBC)

The flight took off from JFK airport and then began to fly over the Atlantic Ocean, but a little less than an hour into the flight the crew noticed smoke and issued the international urgency signal "pan pan pan."

They were cleared to proceed to the airport in Halifax but crashed in the relatively shallow water off Peggys Cove.

Nancy Hausman travels all the way from Illinois every year. She comes to pay her respects to her son Thomas, who was just 33 years old when he died.

His remains, along with those of many others who were aboard Swissair 111, are buried at a monument near Peggys Cove.

"It makes you feel, I think, a little bit better to be close to your relatives that you have lost and Tom is the first one," she said.

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The recovery effort retrieved 98 per cent of the aircraft which was then painstakingly pieced back together to aid in the official investigation of the crash. (CBC)

"If you have to lose a member of your family away from home, they couldn't have found a better place than here on St. Margarets Bay. The people here and the care and the love they give for all of these [strangers] that they have never met in life and yet our lives are all entwined together now."

Though only four Canadians were killed on the flight, the crash of Swissair 111 had an enduring impact on Canada.

Local fishermen led the search for survivors, residents welcomed the victims' families and the names of the dead are etched in stone monuments at a seaside memorial.

The recovery effort, Operation Persistence, was massive. It retrieved 98 per cent of the aircraft and much of the 15 tonnes of cargo. That effort included use of a suction-dredge vessel, which also retrieved rocks and other objects that had been at ocean bottom.

After being brought to the surface, the pieces, which numbered about one million, went to a sorting facility in Sheet Harbour, N.S.

Lost cargo from the flight included currency, diamonds, jewelry and Pablo Picasso's The Painter. At the time, the painting's value was estimated at $1.5 million.