Reality sinks in for a small fishing community after disaster strikes when a Swiss Air Flight 111 crashes near Peggy’s Cove, one of the most famous tourist attractions of Nova Scotia, Canada, writes Alyssa Mosher
Beauty or Beast?
The ocean leads the way to Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada. Small red and blue fishing houses perch behind long grass among the rocks that stretch to the lighthouse. The Whalesback rock slumps in the crushed bushes. There’s a clearing just behind it where a boulder is split in two. The two pieces face the sea, inscribed with strangers’ names and this:
In memory of
the 229 men, women and children
aboard Swiss air Flight 111
who perished off these shores
September 2, 1998.
They have been joined to the
sea and the sky.
May they rest in peace.
Peggy’s Cove is one of Canada’s greatest tourist attractions. The famous lighthouse sits on the rocks above the icy water at the tip of St. Margaret’s Bay. Its paint is chipped after waves crashed against its walls during many windstorms and hurricanes. The view from the rocks goes on for kilometers, gaping out at Bayswater only 11 km across the bay. A sign warns tourists to stay off the rocks that surround the lighthouse, but no one ever listens. Some people even fish off the wet, blackened ones, while white waves splash too close to their feet.
Twelve years ago, however, the beauty of Canada’s Ocean Playground fell to a disaster site.
At approximately 10:15 on the night of September 2, 1998, a plane flying from New York, America; to Geneva, Switzerland went down at Peggy’s Cove. About an hour after the plane took off, the pilot spoke with Moncton, New Brunswick Airport officials reporting that there was smoke in the cockpit. The pilot requested to land in Boston in the United States of America, but was told that Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada was closer. The plane proceeded towards Halifax, but began to slowly drop from the sky. In an effort to save his passengers, the pilot started dumping tons of fuel into the ocean. The plane disappeared from Halifax radar once the plane dropped from 33,000 to 10,000 feet.
Then there was a loud boom.
Suddenly Peggy’s Cove became the centre of worldwide attention when Swissair Flight 111 went down only 11.3 km off its coast.
Locals came to the rescue immediately following the crash. Fishermen got on their boats and became part of a three day search team. They rummaged around the surroundings, finding only remains of aircraft and body. No one survived the crash.
The victims’ families flew in from abroad, visiting the final resting place of their loved ones. The community and surrounding area of Peggy’s Cove and Bayswater came together and built two memorials for those 229 people who went down late that night 12 years ago.
Jeff Mosher, a local who is familiar with the beauty of Peggy’s Cove, was faced with tremendous grief after he tried to help find the victims of the crash. Writing a poem was the only way he could cope with the remorse he felt. Contrary to his intentions, Mosher’s poem became the centerpiece for the memorial service of a nearby high school. A copy was also sent to a group in Switzerland where most of the victims’ families resided.
Mosher’s poem is called Down at Our Peggy’s Cove. One line describes the tragedy perfectly:
"Now the families are coming to face the cruel scene, a place of great beauty, yet ugly and mean."
The crash of Swissair Flight 111 has made Peggy’s Cove more than it was ever meant to be. It is more than a tourist’s site for those visiting from Switzerland. It is more than summer’s beauty for those of the community like Jeff Mosher. It is now a place to mourn, a place to appreciate, a place to remember all those affected by such an unnatural disaster.