Families gather for what could be last organized service for Swissair victims
By ALISON AULD
HALIFAX (CP) - Mette Arnmark planned to awake in her new student surroundings Tuesday and pay a small tribute to her father, hundreds of kilometres away from the site where he and 228 others perished five years ago.
As she does every Sept. 2, Arnmark will light a stubby white candle she was given on the first anniversary of the crash of Swissair Flight 111 off Nova Scotia.
"I think about it every day a little bit, but it's especially strong this time of year," Arnmark said of the day when she found out her father, Per Spanne, was killed in the crash off Peggy's Cove.
"I don't feel the need to go up there for the actual memorial, but if I can find a church where I can just sit and think and light the candle I try to do that. I bring my candle with me wherever I go."
Arnmark, 24, is like many of the family members who flocked to this seaside city in the hours after the disaster and on the one-year anniversary, but who now are staying home every Sept. 2 and trying to move on with their lives.
She will be starting university in Boston and her mother, Vibeke Arnmark, will be in Europe for the fifth anniversary. Her sister is in Australia. The last time they all travelled here from their home in New York was a year after the plane went down, when hundreds of relatives gathered on Citadel Hill for a memorial.
Prisca Zimmermann, whose husband Urs Zimmermann was piloting the MD-11 when it plowed into the ocean, didn't plan to do anything special Tuesday and said she felt no need to attend memorial services at the crash site.
"Time is passing by," Zimmermann, a flight attendant with Swiss International Air Lines, said from her home in Winterthur, Switzerland.
"We think about what happened and we miss my husband and the father of my children, but also time heals wounds."
Several families still planned to travel to a monument outside Halifax for a service and then head to the site 11 kilometres offshore where the plane slammed into deep waters, killing all 229 people on board.
Officials say it is likely this will be the last time there will be an organized service at the site since the final report into the crash has been released and many families, like the Arnmarks, are trying to recover.
But as they do, aviation experts continue to press for change to make sure the same type of thing doesn't happen again.
Vic Gerden, the lead investigator in what became one of aviation history's most complex and expensive probes, said there is still a lot of work to be done and that reforms aren't happening soon enough.
"We'd like to see it happen more quickly of course, but many aren't that easy to resolve," Gerden said from his office in Winnipeg.
"Some of them involve the development of improved materials and some require the development of robust procedures that can be universally applied throughout the aviation industry."
The Transportation Safety Board, which led the investigation in Canada, issued 23 recommendations over four-and-a-half years. Most have not been fully met, but Gerden said all are being worked on.
Various groups are focusing on specific issues that were found to be linked to the crash, such as wiring and flammable insulation. Procedures to test certain insulation materials used on planes, for example, have just been approved and are now in place, said Gerden.
The board, which spent $57 million on the probe, determined in its final report that wiring that powered a controversial entertainment system combined with highly flammable insulation to feed a deadly fire that brought down the plane.
The agency didn't identify the exact source of the fire that caused a massive electrical failure on the MD-11, but concluded it was linked to the improperly installed gaming system.
The TSB also implicated the powerful U.S. Federal Aviation Administration for failing to ensure the entertainment system was installed and certified properly.
Gerden said the board continues to monitor international aviation regulators to make sure action is being taken on the recommendations.
"There's a significant amount of work that needs to be done in a harmonized, international environment," he said.
"So we need to keep the issues highlighted and ask the question, 'How quickly is this being done and is it being done quickly enough?' I don't have an answer for that."
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