As people mingled in the foyer, the Salvation Army Citadel filled with chatter and the pews filled with people, it was obvious some time has passed since the crash of Cougar Flight 491.
For anybody who attended the ceremony the first year following the tragedy — certainly for anybody who attended the memorial service that took place a week after it first happened — there was a different feeling at last night’s fourth annual service.
That’s not to say that time has healed the wounds, or that it ever will. But for some family members who attended, the ceremony is something to be grateful for.
“Services like this are comforting. It’s a great way to reflect on what happened,” says Danny Breen, who’s brother, Peter, was on 491 when it ditched.
Still, four years can seem like barely a night’s rest for someone mourning a loved one.
“It’s still pretty fresh,” says Breen.
Unlike the 2,000 or so people who crowded into the Basilica in St. John’s for the first memorial service, just a week after the crash, about 400 gathered Tuesday evening.
Hymns were sung as the people gathered inside. Prayers were said and scriptures were read aloud. There was little talk of the offshore, of helicopters, of tragedy or even death for much of the service.
There was a lot of talk about faith, though. Rev. Dr. Edison Wiltshire gave a deep, philosophical talk on faith — what it is and what it can do. Faith is the healing agent, he said.
“Faith cushions our falls,” the reverend proclaimed, adding it’s not a blank cheque that can be drawn out whenever somebody feels the need. It offers a lot but it takes effort to get it working, he said.
The tragedies in this province are often entwined with issues of safety, and 491 is certainly no exception.
The loss of Cougar Flight 491 was a major topic of discussion in the House of Assembly Tuesday, with opposition politicians pressing the government on why there still is no independent offshore safety regulator.
Recommendation 29 from the Wells Inquiry into the Cougar crash called for an independent safety body.
“At the time, the premier supported this recommendation,” Liberal Leader Dwight Ball said. “I ask the premier: you have said in the past that amendments would have to be made to the Atlantic Accord to set up the safety regulator, so what have you done to make this happen?”
Premier Kathy Dunderdale blamed it on the federal government.
“We do support an independent safety regulator, but we are only half of the CNLOPB. The federal government has responsibility and would have to agree with the recommendation for that to take place,” she said. “We continue to press the issue with the federal government, but concurrence has not happened up to this point. We firmly support the establishment of an independent safety regulator.”
New Democrat Leader Lorraine Michael also questioned the government about offshore safety, and why workers are still being forced to take night flights to oil production platforms.
“Judge Wells recommended that no worker be forced to take a night flight as a term of his or her employment,” Michael said. “So, Mr. Speaker, I ask the premier: will she and her government make it known to the industry, speak to them and to the CNLOPB, and make their thoughts known that government considers night flights to be hazardous and employees have every right to refuse them without fearing for their jobs?”
Dunderdale said that she thinks safety issues are extremely important, but that it’s the CNLOPB’s job to implement the recommendations from the Wells inquiry.
There was talk of safety at this memorial, too — not from the pulpit but from people such as Breen.
He said he and others are at the point now where they want to celebrate the lives of the people they’ve lost, but also want to make sure that there’s awareness of the safety issues facing the ocean industries
He says fighting for better regulations and safer conditions is actually a way of remembering and honouring the people lost.
“I think you’re always trying to get a positive. From my brother’s perspective, he’d want improvements made.”
Breen said many friends of his brother work in the offshore, so fighting for better conditions would mean a lot to him.
Believing in that enough to pursue it publicly takes faith, too, as many of the family members of the Cougar 491 victims have done. What makes a tragedy like this one so different than an individual death besides the number of lives lost is how much of a public loss it becomes.
“When I’m out weekly, somebody will come up to me and say, ‘Look, I’m really sorry to hear about your brother.’ This tragedy really touched the people of the province. And although it’s a very personal thing, the public nature of people who come up is very comforting,” said Breen.
As the candle-lighting ceremony began, all were encouraged to stand as they heard the name of their relative or friend and a candle was lit in their name. As the flames gathered in the front to commemorate those lost, lines of people in the rows stood. By the time the 17 names were read, more than half of the 400 in the chapel were standing.
It seems the annual ceremony is becoming more of an event for those who knew the victims directly as time goes on.