Nova Scotia

Air Canada AC624: Catherine Ouellet searches for man who carried aunt from plane

A Halifax woman is trying to find the man who picked up her 80-year-old aunt and carried her away from the wreckage of AC624.

Family tries to find man in the white sweater who saved Ruth Macumber from Air Canada crash

Catherine Ouellet desperately wants to find the man who carried her 80-year-old aunt off of AC624. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

A Halifax woman is trying to find the man who picked up her 80-year-old aunt and carried her away from the wreckage of AC624.

"He was absolutely incredible. He was there the whole time," said Catherine Ouellet.

Ouellet and her aunt, Ruth Macumber, were in row 20 above the wing that was destroyed in the crash. Macumber was supposed to be at the window, but the man sitting in the aisle offered to switch seats in Toronto so she would be more comfortable.

As the plane descended, investigators say it collided with an antenna array. That's when Ouellet believes her aunt was thrown forward, hitting her nose. Then, she says, the plane forcefully tipped as the wing smacked against the ground.

Ouellet described the feeling as being a chew toy in the jaws of an animal. She says she remains bruised and sore from those moments. 

As soon as the plane came to a stop, Ouellet knew they had to move quickly.

She wants to know who he is. Her heart bursts for him for what he has done for her.- Catherine Ouellet 

"I tried to take her out of her seat - I feel so badly about this - but she still had her seat belt on. I'm pulling and 'Cathy Cathy! I still have my seat belt on.'"

Macumber needs a walker, but she managed to get to the emergency exit with Ouellet behind her. That's when the stranger in their aisle jumped into action.

"This gentlemen that was beside us helped me get her over the little ridge for the emergency exit because she couldn't step that high."

Outside the plane, in the howling wind, a flight attendant instructed them to slide down the exit.

"My aunt's like, 'I can't do that! I can't do that!'" She says the man helped Macumber sit down and slide safely to the bottom.

On the ground, Macumber needed support. Ouellet and the man each took a side and helped her until she became short of breath. That's when Ouellet says the man picked up her aunt by the waist and started walking. Macumber insisted he stop because she couldn't go any further.

"He said madam – I forget what he called her – he said we have to get further from the plane. So he picked her up, threw her over her shoulder and off we went into the crowd."

Stranger in the white sweater

Ouellet knows nothing of the man, other than he was wearing a white sweater. She suspects he was in his 30s.

"He wasn't looking out for himself, he was looking after my aunt. I thought it was the most heart touching thing I ever experienced. Because he could've gotten off and run away like everyone else and he didn't."

The man took Macumber to a fire truck and helped her get inside to stay warm. That's when they became separated.

Ouellet says she just wants the opportunity to show how grateful they are.

"Oh my God we couldn't thank him enough. My aunt wants to send him a card. She wants to know who he is. Her heart bursts for him for what he has done for her."

Still in hospital

This photo of Ruth Macumber was taken at the Toronto airport, right before she boarded AC624.

Both Macumber and Ouelette were sent to hospital, but Macumber remains the only one from the flight who is still receiving treatment.

She has a fractured bone in her arm near her shoulder, and will likely stay in hospital for a while yet. She lives alone, and will need support when she is eventually released.

Ouellet says staff from Air Canada have been incredible, offering to pay for any treatment or help that they need during Macumber's recovery. She is praising the airline's response, saying they have called repeatedly to check in on the pair.

Ouellet is also saying thanks to the paramedics – who she she only knows as Eli and Lindsay – who supported her aunt through the shock of the situation. 

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