Friday December 15, 2017

'I didn't want to die': Plane crash survivor and rescuer share their stories

Timothy Fern, 16, survived the Fond-du-Lac, Sask., plane crash on Wednesday.

Timothy Fern, 16, survived the Fond-du-Lac, Sask., plane crash on Wednesday. (CBC)

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Sixteen-year-old Timothy Fern  was on a plane that crashed shortly after taking off from Fond-du-Lac, Sask., on Wednesday.

"I see the trees coming closer and closer and closer and we just hit it — the worst feeling ever," Fern told The Current's Friday host ​Piya Chattopadhyay.

"I didn't want to die."

In the past two days, Canada has seen two aviation crashes.

All 25 people on board the Fond-du-Lac plane crash survived.

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A plane with 25 people on board crashed in northern Saskatchewan shortly after taking off around 6:15 p.m, Wednesday, at the Fond-du-Lac airport. (Facebook, Raymond Sanger/CP)

But on Thursday, four Hydro One employees died when their helicopter crashed in Tweed, Ont.

Statistically speaking, these events are rare, but when they happen, they can have a profound effect not only on the survivors, but on their loved ones, their communities, as well as the people who came to help.

'I'm just grateful to be alive.' - Timothy Fern 

Fern said the crash knocked him unconscious. When he woke up, he noticed a woman passenger "hanging there off the plane" and "she was covered in blood."

"I couldn't even see her face."

Fern helped her down and then "followed the moonlight" to find help.

Fern was among the 22 passengers, two pilots and a flight attendant on the ATR-42 plane, which left the airport at around 6:15 p.m. CST, and was headed for Stony Rapids

" I just wanted to go home," said Fern. "I'm just grateful to be alive."

Hydro One helicopter crash

Emergency vehicles were lined up on the site of a helicopter crash in Tweed, Ont., that killed all four crew members. (Katie Simpson/CBC)

'It shredded the body of the plane, and it blew up.' - Jeremy Kerr

In 2011, Jeremy Kerr was one of six people who raced to a burning plane that had crashed in Richmond, B.C. He was awarded Canada's Medal of Bravery three years later.

"I saw this plane coming down very awkwardly and something was very clearly wrong." said Kerr, who was sitting in his truck.

'I just had to act'

"I just watched it drop right into the ditch beside the road. It hopped up, crossed six lanes of traffic, and as it crossed over the median, it shredded the body of the plane, and it blew up."

"I didn't really have much of a thought process at the time. I just had to act," said Kerr.

Days following the crash, he met the families of passengers he helped pull out of the plane.

"The emotion — I mean it was like nothing I've ever felt before," said Kerr, describing people hugging him and thanking him for keeping their families together.

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Jeremy Kerr was one of the men who rushed toward a burning plane in Richmond, B.C., in 2011.

Kerr said the plane crash changed him "drastically."

"I think the idea of your own mortality has an effect on you or certainly when you have a brush with death or when you're involved with the people who have had one."

'Whether people die or not, I think you still question whether you could have done more' - Jeremy Kerr

'Traumatic event'

Kerr had this advice for survivors and rescuers: "Get help."

He called himself fortunate because he knew one of the firefighters at the crash site. Afterwards, he went to the fire hall and spent time with the rescue team and talked about their experiences.

"I had to make the call to not go back in after the pilot — the flames were just too great at that point. And that really twisted me up, and you feel like you could have done more. "

The firefighters offered him closure, according to Kerr.

"After that I certainly went and got some help with a psychologist as well," said Kerr.

"It was a traumatic event. Whether people die or not, I think you still question whether you could have done more."


This segment was produced by The Current's Julian Uzielli and Ines Colabrese.