Around 11:30 p.m. on September 2, 1998, John Campbell noticed on the news that a small Cessna aircraft had crashed off the coast of Peggy's Cove.
He's a resident of the Nova Scotia community and owned a whale-watching boat at the time; so he gathered his crew and sailed into the darkness in search of survivors.
They were shocked to discover it was nowhere near a Cessna that had gone down.
"It was unbelievable," he said in a phone interview from his family's restaurant on Wednesday.
Campbell's was one of the first boats to come across the millions of shattered pieces of airplane fuselage and human remains from the crash of Swissair Flight 111.
For the next five days he worked 24 hours a day, ensuring the Sou'Wester Restaurant and Gift Shop remained open for RCMP, recovery workers, media and family members of the victims.
The event took over the small community, he said.
RCMP closed it off to outsiders for days and even Campbell's best friend couldn't get in.
A makeshift morgue was erected in the middle of the village where body parts from the wreckage were collected "” little consideration given to the small children in the cove.
Fuel trucks to fill the tanks of boats involved in the recovery were turned away along with city garbage trucks.
And although the event was touted as one of the most organized and coordinated responses to a large-scale emergency in Canada's history, Campbell says he's still disappointed with how the government treated the residents of his community.
"You know it was almost, in the end, thankless," he said.
For years Campbell was concerned about the impact the horrific images of those first weeks may have had on his daughter "” only five years old at the time.
But when it was all over, there was no de-briefing for the residents of Peggy's Cove.
"A small community of 40 people should not have been impacted to the extreme it was," he said.
Despite these lasting feelings, Campbell holds nothing but the fondest memories of the family members of victims he met that fall.
Every anniversary, for years after the crash, he continued to escort bereaved loved ones on his whale watching boat to the site.
"Some of them, you feel quite a connection with because of what happened," he said.
Next Tuesday, he'll repeat the trip out to the site "” with a group of family members who lost loved ones that fateful day "” and then share a meal with them at the Sou'Wester.
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