TWICE AS FAR
- THE INVESTIGATION -
THE RECOVERY PROCESS
Peggy's Cove taken from the Coast Guard helicopter on Sunday afternoon, the 6th.
This view is to the West-South-West in the general direction of the crash site.
The recovery ships can barely be picked out in this photo.
The weather changes quickly as is normal for this time of the year in this area of the Atlantic Coast.
This photo shows Peggy's Cove looking in a North-Westerly direction towards Whales Back, the present site of one of the Swissair Flight 111 monuments to the passengers and crew. In the small bay area at lower centre is the docking area for the contingent of Canadian Coast Guard and RCMP small boats that patrolled the area for debris during the recovery operation.
I took this photo on Sunday, the 6th of September, of the Peggy's Cove lighthouse right after being dropped off by the helicopter. The people at the lighthouse are looking out to the crash site about seven kilometres off shore. Four ships of various sizes can be seen. The HMCS Preserver is on the left with another ship on the right that is likely a Canadian Coast Guard vessel. Between them are two smaller watercraft. The two people, a man and a woman standing side by side as one, appear to be two lonely sentinels waiting for the return of those lost in the crash at sea.
The Canadian Navy based at Halifax provided the HMCS Preserver as the command ship for the at-sea operation. Well suited for such a role, during the initial stages human remains and debris were brought aboard from the various search vessels. It was then ferried by helicopter and Coast Guard ship back to the Shearwater Naval Airwing Base where it was all processed.
CH-124 SEA KING
The Sea King was the unsung hero of the recovery operation, as were the aircrews and aircraft maintenance technicians who kept them flying.
THE USS GRAPPLE
This photo shows the site of the salvage effort and is located directly over the crash debris. The large grey ship at the photo's centre is the USS Grapple (ARS 53), a US Navy Rescue and Salvage vessel. Beside it is a Canadian Coast Guard ship, likely the CCGS Earl Grey. The third smaller ship is unknown. The vessel on the horizon is HMCS Preserver.
Canadian Navy divers, soon assisted by US Navy divers, conducted the initial debris and victim retrieval. Within a short period, one of the divers nearly lost his life when he became entangled in the wreckage. It was decided to go to the next stage of recovery.
THE SEA SORCERESS
The Sea Sorceress with its crane and grapple bucket was the next phase of the recovery process. The barge is alongside the tender with small patrol vessels constantly available to retrieve any floating debris and to provide transportation to shore if the need ever arose. As well, the tender's helicopter pad is visible in the photo.
Once the crane brought the material to the surface, it was dumped on the barge where RCMP, DND, TSB, and others processed it. Of course, it could be a mixture of anything from the seafloor along with aircraft debris and human remains. As can be seen in the photo, it was processed by raking to sort it and then washing away the natural seafloor materials. Throughout the investigation, it would be asked what evidence of an incendiary device was found. Many people know how fragile burnt material can be, and this process was far from gentle. The next two procedures to be used were even less gentle on the evidence.
The CCGS Earl Grey is alongside the barge to collect debris. The ship was the transport system for the heavy materials that could not be moved by any other method. The heaviest items were the three jet engines and the undercarriage pieces, while some of the wing structures had the greatest surface area. However, nearly everything else brought to shore could have fit through a normal doorway in any house.
The grapple bucket was able to retrieve items even as large as the engines, or as shown here the undercarriage. Of course, there could be no one on the seafloor below to direct placement of the grapple bucket, so the crane operator's work depended on precise GPS coordination.
Two of the RCMP's newest patrol vessels were present to assist in the at-sea operation. The 'Simmonds' and the 'Nadon' were used extensively. This photo shows the 'Simmonds' in the process of ferrying the barge crew out from their staging dock.
This photo, taken in Peggy's Cove, shows some of the small launches used by both the CCG and the RCMP for search and recovery, and to act as a safety net for the barge operations.
Within a couple of days of the crash, the black boxes were located. Each has an electronic beacon to help in its location. The Okanagan, one of the submarines from the Canadian Navy stationed at Halifax, contributed in finding them. The two devices, encased in an orange metal container to assist in their protection and location, are shown here mounted in another MD-11 aircraft hopefully to never have to tell a story.
HMCS Okanagan at sea. This submarine was used to find the black boxes from the crash by homing in on the location transmitter from each box.
Not only was the Canadian Navy and Coast Guard actively involved in the recovery. The Canadian Army supplied personnel to assist in scouring the shorelines and all the islands spotted around the St. Margaret Bay area. The primary agency that coordinated and controlled the ground search was the civilian Nova Scotia Ground Search and Rescue Agency made up of hundreds of trained volunteers who provided many thousands of unpaid hours to search hundreds of square kilometres of beach area. Valuable pieces of debris were retrieved. Of course, during the first night, the Canadian Air Force with Search and Rescue helicopters and Hercules aircraft had been involved in the search for the crash site and the attempted rescue of any survivors.
This photo shows four of the Ground Search and Rescue personnel conducting a beach search. It provides a good idea of some of the terrain that they had to traverse. Anyone with any experience with beaches, seaweed, and rocks can appreciate the difficulty that they encountered. Yet the only injuries were three instances of sprained or twisted ankles - a reflection of the level of training they had prior to deployment. 3,141 volunteers from 24 teams based throughout the Province of Nova Scotia provided nearly 49,000 hours of service over the 60 day period that they were deployed.
This was the RCMP's official name for the search and recovery operation for the Swissair 111 air crash. This appeared on our shirts as hangar uniform for members of the RCMP's Swissair Task Force.
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