Victim's sister recounts agony of Swissair crash
Sat, September 2, 2006
By JAMES KELLER, CP
HALIFAX -- Eight years ago, Patricia Eberhart's name appeared in newspapers around the world, one of 229 people killed after Swissair Flight 111 crashed into waters off Nova Scotia.
The 51-year-old flight attendant from New York was among those who died when an electrical fire brought down the MD-11 jetliner near Peggy's Cove on Sept. 2, 1998.
The Swissair disaster was covered in detail by international media, with graphic descriptions of the crash scene and extensive coverage of the investigation.
But Ivy Bannister, Eberhart's sister, says many of the personal stories connected to the crash were lost.
Bannister tells her family's story -- elevating her sister's death from simply a name on a list -- in Blunt Trauma, a non-fiction work released this year.
"It was so unreal so as to be unbelievable to find out by radio of the death of your closest blood relative and to be reliant upon the media for an understanding of the details of what happened," says Bannister, who is in Nova Scotia for the anniversary of her sister's death.
"I think that's why I was so obsessed with giving a public event private meaning. You do feel that these public events will never affect you personally."
Blunt Trauma -- a title inspired by the official cause of death listed on Eberhart's death certificate -- follows Bannister's family for a year after the crash.
Bannister recalls how she spent months in New York caring for her 80-year-old mother. Eberhart's death put a strain on their already difficult relationship.
The book also reveals what went through Bannister's mind as she learned more about the crash, including reading the coroner's report that described what was left of her sister's body.
"When your life is coloured by something like this, everything looks different. For a couple of years, the smell of smoke alone was enough to move me from wherever I was in my head to a place I never was, which was at the site of the crash, the smoking ocean."
The plane was flying at night from New York to Geneva when smoke filled the cockpit, prompting the pilots to dump fuel before trying in vain for an emergency landing in Halifax.
Canadian investigators later concluded the fire was linked to an in-flight entertainment system, which included a gambling program. Wires short-circuited, igniting a fire that spread to adjacent insulation, causing a massive system failure.
"I was never really angry about what had happened until I thought that it might be an entertainment system that had been the cause," says Bannister. "It's better to feel that there was some ghastly mistake or some horrible event that caused this. It's harder to accept that the desire to make a lot of bucks by introducing a gambling system to airplane travellers was a good enough reason for all these people to have died."
Ivy, I'm glad you were able to write this book as this is a horrific story that needed to be told and never forgotten. It had to take a lot of strength to do this. The death of my daughter has nearly killed me.This message has been edited. Last edited by: BF,
I couldn't agree with Ivy more. As soon as this system was mentioned in October '98 by the Canadian press, I knew that this was why my beloved daughter was dead. Despite relentlessly trying to pursue charges against those individuals that knowingly put these people at risk, through the U.S. Justice system, I couldn't get anyone to take it seriously and conduct any real investigation.
To this day I can't understand why even though Gary Stoller in his article in USA Today exposed the truth about the people involved in the manufacture, installation & inspection of the IFEN, nothing has really ever been done about it. As I've pointed out throughout the site, many of these individuals are still working in the aviation business.
Money > Lives
The old tragic algebraic equation.
"Those Who Don't Learn From The Past Are Doomed To Repeat It."
I WOULD LOVE TO READ THE BOOK WHERE DO I GET IT MY DAD WAS KILLED ON THAT FLIGHT PLEASE IF YOU DONT MINE CALL ME I WOULD LOVE TO DISCUSS ACTION AGAINST THE SYSTEM MY NUMBER IS 9176974407 OR516705 6260 ABE KLEIN
WHERE DO I GET THE BOOKAKLEIN5189@MSN.COM
Abe, I'm very sorry about your father. Does anyone know how to get this book? I forget the name of the big Canadian book site. I'm not sure who published it?
A little more about the book and author:
Bannister struggled after sister's death on Swissair Flight 111
By BILL SPURR Features Writer
Ivy Bannister prepares herself for an emotional roller-coaster ride when she comes to Nova Scotia.
On one hand, she finds the people here friendlier than in her native New York City and in her adopted home of Dublin, where she's lived for 30 years.
"One of the things that impressed me the most was how nice everyone was because I'm used to Irish people and New Yorkers," Bannister said, recalling her first trip to Nova Scotia in 1999.
On the other hand, any mention of the province brings a reminder of why she came here in the first place: the memorial service for the victims of Swissair Flight 111, among them Bannister's sister.
"It was an overwhelmingly powerful experience, walking up through the lines of people that had been involved in the cleanup efforts, people handing us flowers and just turning that corner and stepping in there," said Bannister of the service and the memorial. "It was highly traumatic "” you can't argue with a granite wall."
Bannister's sister, Patty, was a flight attendant on Swissair 111, and only a few months away from retirement when she died.
Her death and its impact on Bannister and her family is the subject of Blunt Trauma: After the Fall of Flight 111 (Goose Lane Editions, February 2006), a book Bannister wrote following the tragedy and was recently in Halifax to promote. The title refers to the cause of death for Patty, as listed on her autopsy report. But Blunt Trauma is primarily about Bannister and her mother; the way Patty's death affected them as individuals and their relationship with each other.
Bannister is a novelist and playwright. Many of her stories have been published and broadcast and her plays have been produced on stage and radio in Ireland, the U.K. and Germany. She has been writing in diaries since childhood and has filled hundreds of them.
Bannister said she knew almost immediately that the way her life was torn asunder after the crash should become a book.
"It was at the same time a very long period of time and a very short period of time. It was a year of burning intensity, and I could not think of anything else at all. The whole world was cast for me "” looking out the window I would interpret the whole scene in terms of what had happened to my sister," Bannister said.
"I was totally caught up in this event, so when I saw a van making a delivery to a restaurant in New York that had on the side Eat Fish, Live Longer, my first reaction was ˜Oh, gosh! If only she had eaten some fish, she would still be alive.' Then I thought that the fish were probably eating her, which was a horrible thought but that is the way that everything went through my head that entire time."
Struggling with her emotions and with her abusive mother, Bannister threw herself into her work without even realizing it, producing a torrent of 200,000 words that she didn't even remember writing until she saw how the pages filled a cardboard box.
"Since I could think of nothing else it was inevitable that I write a book about it, because I couldn't apply my concentration elsewhere," she said. "It wasn't cathartic at all. I thought it might be, but it just wasn't. It was a horrible obsession and it just wouldn't go away and maybe I was trying to get rid of it that way, I don't know, but it didn't work."
The abuse Bannister's mother heaps on her in the wake of losing her only other child is difficult to read and the author said some of the most disturbing events didn't make the book's final version.
"I mightn't have published this material but I decided belatedly to publish it . . . once it was out in the public domain then it took a different form for me and I was able to move on from that intensity of feeling about it," she said.
Bannister's mother died last year at the age of 87. She hadn't read the material that became Blunt Trauma.
Has anyone read this book?
Abe, I don't know if you're around anymore, but were you able to get this book? I'm not sure that I could read it, particularly if it gets too graphic about the actual remains. I try very hard to remember Tara as I left her- a beautiful girl on the way to what she thought was going to be, an interesting adventure... It's the only way I can keep my sanity intact. I would like to hear about the book in general, minus the gruesome details, if someone has read it. Thanks.
Has anyone read this book that reads on this site? I love to hear some reviews about it if you have a moment. Thanks.
I found out about this book through this forum and immediately found it at Amazon.com. It was delivered within the week and I spent one evening reading it. My interest stems from the fact that the author (Ivy) and her sister (Patty) were best friends of my older sister and I as we summered on Long Island Sound in Connecticut. I've always kept up with the family as my uncle's cottage was next to theirs. With the internet I was able to catch up with my old friend Ivy a few years ago.
The book is in diary-form, day-by-day starting from September 3, 1998. The thoughts and reactions are personal, similar to many I'm sure most of you were going through at the time and even today. The text centers on Ivy and her mother's hurdles and their relationship, which helped me understand why the family was the way it was when I had close contact with them. The information on the crash is not technical, but informative. For those of you on this forum, you very well will identify with this family's reactions.
Linnea, thanks so much for taking the time to review the book. Ivy used to post on here and I really appreciated her comments. Hopefully she'll be back sometime.
I'm very sorry for the loss of your friend Patty.
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