Hilda Buckles’ husband, Capt. Gary Freeman Fowlow, started on his way home, on March 13, 1985, from an oil rig moored in Placentia Bay.
He never made it to his door.
The helicopter bringing him back to land from the Bowdrill rig crashed.
“There were six lives lost that night, a night that changed so many lives, a night that will never be forgotten,” Buckles said to a gathering on the shore of Quidi Vidi Lake in St. John’s this morning.
Buckles was speaking at the unveiling of both the design and location for a new memorial, focused on offshore safety and in remembrance of the loss of 23 people in two separate helicopter tragedies in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Offshore operators asking for more flying time
One of those events is the 1985 crash of the Universal Helicopters flight in Placentia Bay and the other is the crash of Cougar Helicopters Flight 491, on March 12, 2009, when 17 lives were lost.
“As most everyone here knows and understands the pain and grief that unfolds each passing day after you lose a loved one. You never get over it. You just get through it. And as time passes, you start to live life again,” Buckles said, standing at the microphone addressing politicians and the curious public, as well as family and friends of the deceased.
“Your biggest hope is that no one else has to experience such a tragedy.”
The helicopter memorial’s location and design were selected after consultations with the family members of those who died in the accidents.
A committee — with representatives for the families, as well as the city, province, industry and labour — evaluated proposals for the design. They were submitted by artists in response to a call dictating certain requirements for the design.
The chosen design was developed by Luben Boykov and Frederick Hann. Neither were in attendance for the unveiling, due to work commitments outside the country.
Their idea was described by government staff as follows: “The monument’s design includes a spiraling stainless steel sculpture at its centre which is representative of the aerial screw prototype of the first rotary-type flying machine envisioned by Leonardo da Vinci in the late 15th century. Along the spiral of the aerial screw, the names of the 23 victims of both helicopter tragedies will be cut into the stainless steel. Light will be a prominent feature of the memorial, and will shine skyward through the open cutwork of the names.”
“We feel the design that has been chosen by the committee has met (the stated) goals, and will pay homage to the Cougar and Universal helicopter crashes,” Culture Minister Terry French said at the unveiling.
The City of St. John’s donated the land for the site at Quidi Vidi Lake, and will be providing technical assistance in the monument’s actual completion.
Coun. Danny Breen, who lost his brother, Peter Breen, in the Cougar crash, said the unveiling of the design and location for the memorial is “a very important milestone” in the remembrance of both accidents.
It will be a lasting reminder “of the dangers of working offshore and the need for us to be ever-vigilant, to ensure safety is the top priority,” he said.
In the 2011 provincial budget, $400,000 was earmarked for the monument. It is expected to be completed in 2014.
“It’s the location that makes it,” Breen said after the unveiling.
“One thing that I really wanted in a memorial was something that was accessible to the public, that was in a public place, that not only was there but could be used and enjoyed and became part of something bigger. And I think this is — not only is (this) an important memorial, it will become part of Quidi Vidi Lake, too.”
More than one person remarked on the peacefulness of the location and the likelihood that the site would become a place of reflection.
Those remarks were supported by the calmness of the fall day, the bright sun beating down on the tent sheltering the large images of the memorial to come, and the flat, glassy water of the lake.
Lori Chynn’s husband, John Pelley, died in the Cougar crash.
“It’s beautiful. It’s a beautiful place. I think they picked a wonderful place to have the memorial,” Chynn said of the memorial.
“It’s very tranquil, very peaceful.”