For the love of Stephanie
SIX years ago, Ian Shaw had it all. A successful businessman, at the height of his career, he had luxury homes in France and Switzerland, a Rolls-Royce, an art collection, a wardrobe full of tailored suits.
Today, the Scots-born executive, brother of Sir Jack Shaw, former governor of the Bank of Scotland, waits on tables at a modest restaurant in a fishing village in Nova Scotia. He lives in a one-room apartment and buys his clothes second-hand. But he has a view of the ocean.
The stretch of water he sees every day is the same ocean which claimed the life of his 23-year-old daughter Stephanie, a passenger on SwissAir Flight 111. The plane crashed into the Atlantic in September 1998 after a fire broke out on board, killing all 229 passengers and crew. From that moment, Ian Shaw's life changed for ever.
A documentary to be screened next week, Air Crash Investigation: Fire on Board, will tell for the first time the story of the ï¿½25 million, four-year investigation to find the truth about what happened.
On 2 September, 1998, Stephanie left New York to return to Geneva after a short trip to visit her boyfriend. She was a beautiful, confident girl, an outstanding student at Geneva University. She had planned to travel home a day earlier but waited to catch a direct flight to Geneva - SwissAir 111.
Meanwhile, at the family home in Geneva, Ian Shaw was anxious, although he didnï¿½t know why. "It was not a premonition of anything specific, I was just nervous. I woke at 4am and again at 6am, turned on the television and saw the reports. I knew immediately that Stephanie had gone."
Flight 111 had begun without incident, but 53 minutes after take-off, the pilot reported smoke in the cockpit. When it persisted, he agreed to divert the plane to Halifax, Nova Scotia. However, less than 15 minutes after the first alarm call, all the operating systems failed. Air traffic controllers could do nothing but listen to six minutes of silence before the plane hit the ocean. The impact was felt 14 kilometers away in the fishing village of Peggyï¿½s Cove.
The investigation pointed to the in-flight entertainment system - one of the first to allow internet access and online gambling - as the most likely source of the fire.
Though Mr Shaw praised the Canadian investigation, he does not try to disguise his anger at the SwissAir executives whom he believes dodged responsibility for the disaster when the company was declared bankrupt in 2001. He says the aviation industry as a whole has failed to learn lessons from the tragedy.
"They [the SwissAir board] took platinum parachutes to leave, and the company went bankrupt. But they purchased the entertainment system and I believe it was a spark from that system which caused the fire. The fire would not have spread if the insulating material had not been highly flammable, and that material is present on thousands of other aeroplanes and airlines.
"The inquiry made many recommendations, not one of which has become law in one of the countries involved. Because of the power of the aviation industry, very little can be done."
ï¿½It was not to be close to Stephanie, I donï¿½t believe in that possibilityï¿½ - IAN SHAW
Most of the time, however, Mr Shaw is past anger. Anger wonï¿½t bring Stephanie back. But the grief goes on.
The night Flight 111 crashed was the night Mr Shaw realised how many things in life he could not control. Until that moment success had flowed in his direction. Brought up in Forgandenny near Perth, then in Edinburgh, he quickly moved up the executive ladder. Just before his 60th birthday he resigned to pursue projects of his own. Then, in September of that year, Stephanie boarded the plane and his world fell apart.
"Everything collapsed. I consumed a bottle of Scotch a day. I couldnï¿½t go near the station because I wanted to fall under a train. I couldnï¿½t drive, I couldn't do anything. I was just hurtling through the dark."
One of the few positive memories he has of that time was on his first visit to Peggyï¿½s Cove. He was moved by "the spoken and unspoken compassion" of everyone he met, the way that the tiny lobster-fishing communities warmed to the grief-laden strangers who arrived by the hundred on their doorstep. They understood what it was like to lose loved ones to the sea.
On a subsequent visit, on what would have been Stephanie's 24th birthday, Mr Shaw noticed that the "log cabin take-away" in the village of West Dover, near Peggyï¿½s Cove, was for sale. The following year, he decided to leave his life and wealth in Switzerland and take over the restaurant, now Shawï¿½s Landing. His German wife, Gudula, with whom he had two children, Olivier, now 32, and Stephanie, decided to stay in Switzerland.
He said: "It was not a wish to be close to Stephanie, because I donï¿½t believe in that possibility. I believe that when she and others die they take their memories with them. I am here because I wanted to do some good, in return for all the good I had received. My awareness now is there is no greater good in life than small kindness."
Loss can split couples, but he says that his decision to move to Nova Scotia saved his marriage. He and his wife remain close. "I try to go there twice a year, she comes here twice a year. We speak twice a day every day. We are very, very united, in all ways except geographically."
Indeed, he says the company of Gudula and Olivier is the only thing he misses from his old life. In place of luxury, there is a cove where the nightingales sing, there are seals in the harbour.
And there is the view of the ocean. "The ocean is vital to me. It has been there for millennia, just doing its thing. It will remain long after our generation is over. It reminds me that we are not the centre of the universe."
ï¿½ Air Crash Investigation: Fire on Board will be shown on the National Geographic Channel on Tuesday, 16 March at 10pm
My heart goes out to Mr. Shaw and his family over the tragic loss of their daughter. I know exactly how he feels unfortunately. Mark and I agree completely with him regarding swissair. It is disgraceful that this whole entertainment system business isn't being investigated. I wish other family members would speak out and write to their congressmen. I can't believe that the Swiss are investigating Andre Dose but not the people that ran swissair and pushed to buy the IFEN.
Just the other day someone who is friends with my sister for many years happened to be visiting Nova Scotia and randomly wandered into Mr. Shaw's restaurant. Somehow the conversation turned to swissair 111 and she mentioned that Tara was killed in this crash and Mr. Shaw (if I understand this right) told her about his young daughter. It's a small world... This person knew Tara when she was a little girl. She told my sister that she decided not to go to the memorial because it made her too sad.
Mr. Shaw is a much beloved and extremely interesting figure in the very small village of West Dover. His restaurant is very good, he actually buys pastries from local folks and is a caring, kind man.
My heart goes out to him and we have adopted him in our small part of the world.
I recall on 9/11 I was downtown Halifax where I work - at a univ here - and someone I did not know at a local gift shop at a hospital near the univ gave me a hug because she knew I was awaiting word from my sister who was in the WTC disaster. I did not know her but that is the kind of things people do here.
And alas, Mr. Shaw is so correct - we do know all too well the diasters of the sea whether they are large and public ones or fishers (we tend to be a bit politically correct who die while fishing.
He has certainly kept Stephenie's memories alive through his own kindnesses and presence.
Janey, I have never met Mr. Shaw, but I've always felt deep sorrow for him over the loss of his beautiful daughter. Thanks so much for sharing that.
Still, by the sea
On the eighth anniversary of the Swissair crash, Ian Shaw will not think of his daughter's death, but her beautiful life
Dawn Rae Downton
Saturday, September 02, 2006
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Global National still photo
WEST DOVER, N.S. - Ian Shaw last saw his daughter Stephanie when he drove her to the Geneva airport. She was off to New York to look in on her boyfriend, and "she was luminous," Mr. Shaw remembers. At 23, she was studying economics. She'd produced an outstanding thesis and had just been recruited by the World Economic Forum.
She also worked as a ground stewardess for Swissair, and before she took her new job she decided one last time to take advantage of her access to free flights.
That day in Geneva was buttery with sun, Mr. Shaw recalls --much like the one he and I shared this week at Shaw's Landing, his celebrated waterside cafe in the craggy little Nova Scotia fishing village of West Dover. Today is the eighth anniversary of the Swissair 111 crash in which Stephanie Shaw died, just down the road from West Dover, off the coast of the tourist hamlet of Peggy's Cove.
Stephanie wasn't supposed to be on Flight 111. At the last minute she opted for a direct flight back home and boarded it.
"That was one of the small hardships in terms of destiny," her father says.
Geraniums bloom in his cafe windows above a sun-drenched deck filled with tables and umbrellas. Scotland-born, Calvin-bred, wearing a chef's jacket white as his hair, he dusts the leaves as we talk.
He was always industrious and still is.
But he no longer lives in Geneva. He isn't the director of Jean Lasalle Swiss watches any longer either; he no longer wears fine suits, drives a Rolls, or collects art.
On a visit to Nova Scotia a month after Swissair 111 went down (invariably he calls the event an "accident" even though the Transportation Safety Board of Canada ruled that negligence -- an improperly installed prototype entertainment system -- likely caused it), he saw a take-out diner for sale. The following year he bought it.
Shaw's Landing was born, and the transformation of Ian Shaw was begun.
Until then he'd been only "an interested Sunday family cook," but over what he calls the very terrible winter of 1998-99, he conceived how the little diner could become a memorial to Stephanie more dynamic than the commemorative events he was being asked to contribute to; and how it could employ some locals and serve visitors, too.
Service has since become Mr. Shaw's mantra. "There is no greater goodness in life than small kindness," he says.
He himself found much kindness in his new home, where Nova Scotians remembering the crash are still reduced to tears.
South Shore fishermen had turned in early as usual on the night of Sept. 2, 1998. They still talk today about how a crack split the night sky, how in minutes they were out of bed and into their boats for a rescue unknown. But everything was gone.
Months later, to commemorate Stephanie, Ian Shaw and his wife, Gudula, tossed an empty urn into the waters.
Switzerland faced a national catastrophe. The land of precision watches and trains that run on time lost its jet and then its airline when Swissair filed for bankruptcy. Mr. Shaw himself landed "right next door to suicide." He drank heavily, dared not walk along the River Rhone near his home lest he throw himself in. Nor could he go to the train station. "Every time a train came in, there was an answer
He'd always believed that reward came of effort, and his life-- his wardrobe, his expense accounts -- had till then proved it; but with Stephanie's death he lost his bearings, and he found no shelter in denial or hope.
From the moment he saw the TV news in Geneva, he says he knew Stephanie was gone, though reports first said a westbound flight had crashed, with survivors. Gudula pointed out that Stephanie was survivor material and a champion swimmer. But "I couldn't breathe," he recalls. "I didn't want to."
Mr. Shaw has a long, drawn face, and an elegant, deft way of putting things that's completely unaffected.
"I'm not here to be close to Stephanie," he says. "I don't believe in proximity over the bier of death. When people ask me then why did you come, I always answer, 'Why did Swissair 111 not come back to Geneva?' If you can tell me that, I can tell you why I came here."
Neither is it painful for him to be here. "We have this terrific insistence on the dimension we call life," he says, tending another geranium. "It fits into the space given. Stephanie's space was torn apart. The manner in which she died is appalling to me, but here" -- he waves a hand at the ocean all around us -- "is a very fine reminder that thousands of generations have been born, have lived, have died. They've all moved on, and the only constant you have is the ocean."
He walks along that ocean less often now. At 68, he plans the cafe menu, does the shopping, oversees the cooking, greets everyone in his chef's coat and often waits the tables, and after all that it's hard for him just to get up the stairs to bed every night. Though he's impressed with them, he doesn't visit the nearby Swissair memorials any longer either, or mark the anniversaries: It's a way, he says, of picking the scab. Why remember one very black night, rather than 23 years of happy family life?
The family now consists of a son, Olivier, who works for the Red Cross, and Gudula, who remained in Geneva. The Shaws have recently bought a home in Spain, and they hope to reunite and retire there soon. After eight years, Shaw's Landing is for sale.
Mr. Shaw is outraged that Swissair executives donned "platinum parachutes" under bankruptcy laws and availed themselves of the Death on the High Seas Act that left families of the Swiss casualties (but not the American families) unprotected. While he's pro-Canadian and now a landed immigrant, he has also been outspoken about some aspects of the crash investigation, particularly about insurers' attempts at salvage.
You'd never know any of it by the way he lays down your plate of golden fillets and asks genially after your own "little ones."
Early days in his new cafe, serving diner food he didn't like, he thought he should have had a "James Bond 007 licence to kill" by food poisoning. If he didn't know himself any more, he explains, he did at least know good food. He'd travelled widely once: He'd eaten well and met great chefs. Gradually he refined the Shaw's Landing menu to the unpretentious bliss it is today, headlined by fresh haddock brought down the coast from Arichat on Cape Breton Island, lightly washed in batter, and only "set," never overcooked, in the saute pan.
The cafe's guest register is thick as a phone book, full of testaments to Mr. Shaw -- and to his cooking. Many visitors don't know his past. Those who do never gawk.
Despite his tragedy, Ian Shaw has been happier in Nova Scotia than he might have been elsewhere. If the plane had gone down in Switzerland, or anywhere else, he thinks there would have been "all sorts of bickering. Here, everyone became joined in an effort of compassion."
When he sells and leaves, he'll miss CBC Radio Two, he says, and he'll miss Value Village, the charity clothing store in Halifax where he finds not fine suits but what he needs now.
He'll miss Nova Scotians, too -- just as they'll miss him.
I don't think Mr. Shaw or his wife follow this site, but I just want to wish them good luck with their new home together, and to let them know that I've thought about them over the years. I hope they can find some moments of happiness. My deepest sympathy over the loss of their beautiful daughter.
I HAVE THE SAME THOUGHT I LOST MY DAD ON THAT FLIGHT HE WAS A PROMINANT TAX ATTONEY GOING ON THAT FLIGHT FOR A WEEKEND TRIP I WOULD LOVE TO GET THE PEOPLE RESPONSIBLE FOR THAT TRAGEDY FOR THE LOVE OF STANLEY KLEIN LOVE ABE CHERYL AND YOUR GRANDCHILDREN
I WOULD LOVE TO TALK WITH YOU MORE MR SHAW WHERE IS YOUR RESTARANT AND MY EMAIL IS AKLEIN 5189@MSN.COM
I ALSO FOUND NOVA SCOTIANS TO OPEN THERE HEARTS AND DOORS TO US AS WELL AS T5HE CANADIAN POLICE THEY WERE A GREAT HELP I NEVER SAW SUCH A THING IS THERE A WAY MY FATHERE FOUNDATION WHO WAS LOST ON THAT FLIGHT CAN SEND SOME MONEY TO THE FISHERMAN WHERE MONEY IS NEEDED FOR ALL THERE HELP AKLEIN5189@MSN.COM
Abe, The Investigator General's office promised to look into these individuals but I don't think they really did. I called their office and never heard from them again. I tried other legal avenues as well and got absolutely nowhere. Letters were written, but answers were never really given to us. We even hired an attorney who had been a federal prosecutor to look into all of this, and again, no luck at all. It was a total exercise in frustration and went on for many years. At some point I just couldn't stand to be turned away. We did with the help of other people, a tremendous amount of investigation into this IFEN and how it came to be installed on this plane. It was very clear to us that there was plenty of reason to investigate those involved.
The Justice Dept never really seemed to take it seriously, despite the fact that many Americans were on the flight, and the circumstances surrounding their deaths, very shady, particularly after the TSB final report came out. Of course the statues of limitation ran out during the time they drug their feet on looking into some of the criminal acts that Gary Stoller exposed in his USA Today articles. Very very frustrating and depressing. To think that you can put your child with an airline that you think you can trust, to find out later that they had installed a sleezy entertainment system that had been pushed and promoted by a bunch of thugs. The IFEN was a ticking time-bomb. If it hadn't been them, it would have happened to other people flying on those MD-11s.
Just one more comment regarding efforts to get justice for these 229 individuals. The attorney that I hired (former federal prosecutor) felt there was plenty of reason for the justice dept. to look into it, but he explained that they don't take every case. He said that Federal prosecutors are only interested in high profile cases. We approached the Federal Prosecutors through this attorney, and they clearly were not interested in swissair 111. In fact we approached them twice- once after the final report came out. If I had it to do over again, I would have contacted their office more directly myself but still don't think they would have taken the case. Nobody in this country was particularly interested in swissair. The media was taken up by the Bill Clinton scandals at the time or other such stories.
I know that I've said it a million times on this site, but I want to thank someone, that did an absolute ton of research, completely gratis, because he cared. Because of this person, I always had all the information I needed at my finger-tips and was able to present the story exactly how it was, in all it's sleeziness. The person's research was thorough and meticulous. He spent years on it. If it were a different world, that information would have been enough.
If high profile is what they wanted you "may" have gotten justice if the plane had gone down somewhere in U.S. waters instead of Canadian waters. But then of course the investigation would have been done by the NTSB instead of the CSB so it's a double edged sword.
"Those Who Don't Learn From The Past Are Doomed To Repeat It."
Murray, that's absolutely true. The U.S. (press mostly) ignored the tragedy. Without attention on it, no federal prosecutor wanted to touch it. That doesn't launch careers, if the public/press isn't even paying attention to it. It definitely would have gotten more attention if the NTSB had been doing the investigation, in this country. Actually the NTSB at that time, was headed by Jim Hall, and I think they too would have conducted a decent investigation. I'm not sure about if it would have happened now. The person in charge is a former FAA person, which makes me think it wouldn't have been done as well. No way to know that of course.
The articles that appeared in the U.S. press at that time, really only interviewed one person, and were very slanted in swissair's favor. I still feel enraged when I think about that. Just the way it is/was.
Murray, Just wanted to tell you that I almost took out an ad in the NY Times (called their advertising dept) to call attention to the tragedy. At one point they were willing to give me a very good rate compared to what they normally charged, due to the nature of the ad. It still cost a fortune, and inevitably I decided not to do it. I felt there were better ways to spend the money to be more effective. The main aviation reporter that worked for that paper, wasn't terribly interested in listening to those of us who were enraged by swissair and their actions. In fact they went with the party line, which was that 'swissair was doing everything they could to make the families happy.' They missed the entire point- that this airline had caused 229 deaths. Who really cared if they initially threw money at family members? What did that have to do with the true nature of this tragedy and the loss and swissair's responsibility in it?
Please note that unless I missed it, as always, there are NO articles in Switzerland that mention the anniversary of the tragedy. Of course there were stories about how the executives of swissair (over the last year), would be prosecuted for mismanagement of the company. As usual, it's always about the money. Guess it's their dirty little secret that they like to keep quiet. That's why this site exists. Canada appears to be the only country that cares at all.
Just recently I read a story in which the Swiss were bemoaning the loss of their 'perfect' airline. I wish Tara and the other 228 passengers were here to respond to that.
Anyone heard anything about Mr. Shaw? I really admire that man. I hope he and his wife who are reunited, at least according to an article that was published last year, are getting a little peace at this point. My heart goes out to them.
As far as I know, he is still here (Well in West Dover actually) and his wife is still in Europe - they are friendly though but just not together. He still wants to be near Stephenie. He is much beloved by the people of Nova Scotia!
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