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Families remember lives lost in one of Canada's worst air disasters

View of the wreckage of a Trans-Canada Airline DC-8, which crashed shortly after take off, during a storm, in a field near Ste. Therese, 20 miles north of Montreal, killing all 118 passengers and crew, Nov. 29,1963. The crater in the foreground was caused by the impact of the plane.

STE-THERESE-DE-BLAINVILLE, Que. - These days, it's nothing more than a quiet, snow-lined residential corner of this suburb north of Montreal.

But 50 years ago, long before the subdivision was built, it was the site of one of Canada's worst air disasters.

All 118 people on board, including 111 passengers and seven crew, died when a Trans-Canada Air Lines flight crashed into a muddy field.

Witnesses reported seeing the plane, which was headed for Toronto, catch fire and explode shortly after takeoff from Montreal's Dorval airport.

Most the victims on board were from Ontario and western Canada.

On Saturday, dozens of families who lost loved ones visited the site of the tragedy to mark its half-century anniversary. They also toured a local museum featuring an exhibit on the crash.

A day earlier the families held a private service in memory of those who died.

"It's so nice for our family to be together, and go through this to put some closure to it," said Sue Daudelin, who made the trip from Toronto with her two siblings, Bob and Dianne, along with their own children.

Like many others at the weekend event, Sue, Bob and Dianne were only children when tragedy struck.

All three were under 10 years old when their father, a 37-year-old Toronto salesman and Shriners member, died in the crash.

Daudelin said she found some solace in meeting others who went through the same struggles in the aftermath of the crash.

It was a different generation, she said, and talking about the tragedy wasn't always easy growing up.

"Back then, everything was kind of shoved under the rug, and not talked about," she said.

Only two plane accidents in Canadian history have claimed more lives — the 1985 crash of an Arrow Air Flight in Gander, Nfld and a 1998 Swissair Flight that crashed off the Nova Scotia coast — but the Trans-Canada Air Lines crash has at times seemed lost to the course of history.

The Nov. 29, 1963 accident was exactly a week after the assassination of JFK.

A local historian, Martin Rodgers, said the accident was largely forgotten by residents in the decades immediately following the crash, as suburban Ste-Therese continued to expand.

For years, there was no official plaque marking the tragedy, Rodgers said, while the actual site still has no marker. Now it is simply a row of homes.

"I don't know if people know what's under their feet, but it's only houses today," Rodgers said.

"In the '70s, people just forgot the event."

And yet, residents and developers continue to find pieces of twisted metal from the plane in the soil. Rodgers has started to collect them.

Others who grew up in Ste-Therese still vividly remember the night of the accident.

Normand Charbonneau was only 14 when he came to the site and the experience still haunts him. He saw bodies in the light of the flames.

"You wouldn't wish it on anyone," said Charbonneau, who came to the event to offer condolences to the victims' families.

While the exact cause was never determined, many find comfort knowing the crash helped usher in a new era of airplane safety.

"It is a part of Canadian history and there's a lot of good that came out of it," said Graham Bassett, who lost his father, John, a Toronto detective sergeant.

Soon after the accident, the first black box recording device was installed on an airplane.

"I guess there's some good that comes out of a tragedy," he said.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2013
The Canadian Press

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