As the names were read of those who perished when Cougar Flight 491 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean March 12, 2009, candles were lit to remember each of the 17 men and women.
As each name was called, family members who filled George Street United Church in St. John’s for the third annual memorial service stood to acknowledge their loss. At first, there were only a few bodies standing.
By the time the 17th name was read, the vast majority of people in attendance for the Monday evening service were on their feet.
The scene was a stark reminder that as time moves on, there remain many still having to deal with what happened three years ago.
Rev. Edison Wiltshire from Ezra Chaplaincy, a group providing chaplaincy services to offshore workers, said hearts still need mending as a result of the tragedy, which left a lone survivor, Robert Decker.
“As you get on with life, it is our prayer that you will find peace and happiness again, and that your life will be productive,” he said before hundreds who gathered for the service.
Monday’s memorial service brought together representatives from seven Christian denominations and lasted 1 1/2 hours. It featured a variety of prayers, readings, and songs, with the candle-lighting ceremony serving as a centrepiece of the event.
After the last name was read, a moment of silence was observed, with the only audible sounds coming in the form of sniffling and soft cries.
United Church Rev. Bill Bartlett provided an homily titled “The Power of Love in Healing a Broken Heart.”
He said those in attendance for Monday’s service gathered as a supportive community to offer their concern and love to those remembering loved ones lost in the tragedy.
“Tragedy causes time and space to be etched in our memory. I’m sure everyone tonight will remember where you were when you heard the news Cougar Flight 491 was in trouble.”
Bartlett was visiting the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s for a medical appointment when he got wind of what had happened. He later met with relatives of people on the helicopter who were at the hospital. They were waiting to hear news about the fate of their loved ones.
“We sat there, a lot of times in silence, waiting and waiting and waiting for that word,” said Bartlett.
Grief is part of the healing process, Bartlett said, adding he hopes those who lost a family member or friend in the Cougar helicopter crash are moving along in their journey of grief.
“I’m sure the love and support of family and friends has been a great encouragement to you on that journey,” he said.
Among the prayers offered was one of thanks for knowledge by Josephine Gazley, representing the Baptist Church. She offered hope that learning about the circumstances leading to the tragedy will be used to do all that is possible to avoid similar events from happening in the future.
“May the whole world of helicopter aviation be improved as a result of the knowledge we have acquired, and may the families take some comfort that others will be safer in the future,” she said.
Earlier in the day, St. John’s South-Mount Pearl MP Ryan Cleary said the federal government needs to follow through on the recommendations of the Transportation Safety Board stemming from the incident. He emphasized the need to have Sikorski S-92 helicopters operate with a run dry capability of 30 minutes, as recommended by the board.
“The failure of the Sikorski S-92 helicopter to run dry for 30 minutes after the loss of oil pressure was cited as a major reason for the crash in 2009,” said Cleary in a news release. “We know today that the possibility was not remote and the helicopter continues to fly back and forth on a daily basis.”
Cleary went on to state that government needs to learn from tragedies.