Gone but not forgotten

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Sat September 02 2006, 03:36 AM
Gone but not forgotten
Gone but not forgotten
Families, strangers remember Swissair anniversary

Only in the past year has Ian Shaw come to realize that time really does heal all wounds.

The West Dover man, originally from Switzerland, lost his 24-year-old daughter Stephanie eight years ago today when Swissair Flight 111, bound for Geneva, plunged into the cold waters of St. Margarets Bay.

All 229 people on board were killed.

"It's like a sword wound," Mr. Shaw said of the pain. "Given time, the wound will develop scar tissue and if you don't pick at it and you don't let others pick at it, then it will heal. You will have a scar, but the wound no longer hurts."

Mr. Shaw, who moved to Nova Scotia on the first anniversary of the crash, was inconsolable at first, refusing to look at pictures of his only daughter.

When asked Friday how he remembers her, the 68-year-old wrung his freckled hands together and rocked back and forth in his chair. He finally managed a smile, describing Stephanie as a generous and clever girl who loved horses.

"It was a relief to us when Stephanie reached the stage where she could take down posters of hairy two-legged fellows and put up pictures of four-legged hairy animals," he recalled, laughing.

Mr. Shaw attributes his growing strength to his wife of 36 years, who convinced him early on that he must concentrate on "the privilege of the 24 years that we had Stephanie and not the one black night when she was taken."

Scores of emergency workers, fishermen and local residents rushed to the scene that night in September 1998 to help scour the coastline where the McDonnell-Douglas MD-11 went down.

Scraps of the plane and human fragments were all they found.

An investigation in the months following the crash revealed it was smoke in the cockpit, caused by electronic problems with the in-flight entertainment equipment, that led to the crash.

Leonard Ryan remembers watching the news that night and hearing the developing stories about a flight in trouble.

When he heard the plane had crashed near Peggys Cove, he said it was hard to comprehend.

"You read about them all over the world and to have this happen on your doorstep . . ." Mr. Ryan said, trailing off.

The Dartmouth man and his family visited Whalesback on Friday, one of two memorials erected in the months after the crash. The other is in Bayswater.

He said his daughter Maureen, who lives in Bermuda, and her friend Sophie Druett from New Zealand had never been to the memorial and wanted to pay their respects.

"It's quite surreal," Ms. Ryan said when asked her first impressions of the area. "It's a place where these people lost their lives and it's a place of respect."

Ms. Druett said she remembers the tragedy well and was pleased to finally see where it happened.

"It's a very peaceful spot," she said.

Just minutes down the highway is Mr. Shaw's restaurant, which he opened in 1999 in memory of his daughter.

He said he has visited Whalesback many times, explaining that the area has "a remarkable sense of permanence" that helps console him.

The site is especially comforting, he said, because he can't bring himself to go to Bayswater.

"I cannot face the names engraved on the stone," Mr. Shaw said, adding that when his wife visits, he stays in the parking lot.

"I can't do it. It would just destroy my heart."