Some family members of those killed in one of Canada's worst aviation disasters said a memorial to their loved ones unveiled on Sunday helped them cope with a lifetime of grief they've carried since the tragedy 43 years ago.

Families of those on board Air Canada Flight 621 laid white roses on the memorial plaque that has the names of the victims of the crash that occurred July 5, 1970. They also shared memories of where they were when they learned of the tragedy.

Lynda Fishman, who lost her mother and two young sisters in the crash, said that she has been "living with a lifelong sentence of grief," since the day of the crash and that before the unveiling of the memorial garden, the crash site remained in "a state of complete disrespect."


Investigators, in an attempt to determine the cause of a DC-8 crash, haul one of the engines from the main crater during cleanup on July 7, 1970. (The Canadian Press)

"What made things even more difficult for me and for my dad, and I'm sure for all of the family members who lost loved ones that day, was the way in which this tragedy was dealt with back then," she said.

"We had become yesterday's news so very quickly. I felt as ifthis plane crash was long forgotten, as people moved forward with their own lives never mentioning the crash, the victims, or the families who were left to somehow pick up the pieces."

Susan Fennell, mayor of Brampton, said that the garden was an important place for families to seek solace and reflect on the event that left a mark on the community and the country as a whole.

"43 years ago, Brampton and communities around the world stood still," she said. "Victims' families, many of you whom are here, I know you still mourn this loss and all of us, all Canadians mourn with you."

Leaking fuel

The DC-8 en route from Montreal to Los Angeles prepared to make a routine stop at Toronto's international airport just northwest of the city.

Just as it came in to land, co-pilot Donald Rowland mistakenly deployed the ground spoilers, which are only to be used after landing to brake the aircraft, causing the plane to drop.

The captain, Peter Hamilton, 49, applied full power and attempted another landing but as the plane climbed, leaking fuel ignited and a series of explosions destroyed the right wing.

'Dad wasn't supposed to be heading to Toronto, but on short notice he was asked to take this Montreal to Toronto flight ... none of us, not in my family or yours, could have known what was to occur that would so radically alter our lives'—Person quoted

The DC-8, trailing fire and smoke, nose-dived into the field from about 1,000 metres up about 10 kilometres from the airport.

All 100 passengers and nine crew were killed.  

Janice Hamilton, daughter of Capt. Hamilton, travelled from Vancouver to the memorial site and said that her father grew up with a dream of flying, which saw him fly for the Royal Canadian Air Force in the Second World War and later for Air Canada.

"Then came the horror that visited us all on July 5, so many years ago," she said.

"Dad wasn't supposed to be heading to Toronto, but on short notice he was asked to take this Montreal to Toronto flight ... none of us, not in my family or yours, could have known what was to occur that would so radically alter our lives."

Hamilton said that a "stone" of grief from the accident sat inside her for many years, until the permanent memorial site was unveiled today, at which point she said she felt touched by the kindness of strangers.

Fishman said that the outpouring of support for the victims of Saturday's plane crash in San Francisco where two people were killed showed how much differently tragedies are handled today and that she was disappointed in Air Canada's response to the crash and the lack of cleanup of debris and human remains at the crash site.

"While I can only speak for myself, I think we can all agree that Air Canada dropped the ball on this one in a huge way. This crash site memorial garden and official cemetery should have been built many years ago by Air Canada, as their way of taking responsibility and doing the right thing," Fishman said.

"I was told that Air Canada blatantly refused to help with the cleanup of the debris and bones that were still evident at this crash site and they declined any interest or involvement in creating a memorial garden at this actual crash site."

The memorial site is about three quarters of an acre in size, with lilacs planted throughout the grounds and 109 pink polished granite markers to symbolize the victims, in addition to a plaque with the victims' names secured on a large granite boulder.

Diarmuid Horgan, president of Candevcon, who has acted as the developers' co-ordinator for the memorial site, said the need for the memorial was kept in the spotlight by the victims' families and he hoped the garden could help them find peace.