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BAYSWATER BEACH, N.S. - Nobody knew the Navarro family had arrived in Bayswater with a plastic bag full of colourful handmade bookmarks and small, carefully packaged dolls made by Mexican Indigenous women.
Nor did they know that Mariana, her mother Karina and aunt Nydia had also come with a plaque.
Rev. Louis Quennelle, who presided over Sunday’s Swissair memorial service, was let in on the secret at the event.
“That’s when they asked me very shyly if they could make this presentation, as if they were asking me a big favour,” said Quennelle. “It was quite a moving moment and it was such a joy to be able to be there for the presentation, to witness it. They were the only family from Mexico who were here who suffered a loss in Swissair Flight 111.”
Remembering Swissair Flight 111
Their presentation came after the service moved from the Bayswater Swissair memorial site to the reception at nearby Blandford Community Centre. Joined by her mom and aunt, 23-year-old Mariana Navarro addressed the dozens of emergency responders and residents. From the stage, Mariana, the group’s interpreter, read every word on the plaque aloud to the people below.
“Nova Scotia: In our darkest, we received nothing but solidarity, respect and love from you,” Mariana said while wiping away tears. “We watched you work hard, walk and sail for days, you took care of us and supported us.
“Today, we can only say to you that we will never forget everything you did for us and we want to say thank you to the Nova Scotia people, every volunteer, firefighters, policemen, coroner, fishermen, and the entire community.”
The Navarros then presented the plaque to the group.
Mariana was only three years old when her grandmother Yolanda Hernandez de Navarro perished with 228 others aboard Swissair 111 off the coast of Peggys Cove, 20 years ago to the day. Mariana had been to Nova Scotia with her mother and aunt in the tragedy’s immediate aftermath and the trio returned once more to mourn its one-year anniversary.
“My mom would always talk about all the love and care we would get just walking down the street and the people of Nova Scotia gave us so much love without knowing who we were,” said Mariana. “She was really sorry because we couldn’t stop to thank anybody at the time.”
Two months ago they decided to arrive for the 20th anniversary memorial service with a plaque and dozens of pieces of handmade Mexican art.
“We wanted to bring something really Mexican. The first person we gave a doll to this morning, she immediately started crying when I told her my grandmother was in the plane. She remembered perfectly, remembered her house moving like an earthquake when the crash happened.”
The Navarros were among a group of about 20 at the service who had lost family in the crash. The anniversary event was about their loss and a collective loss still shared by many Nova Scotians. Sunday’s service also paid quiet tribute to what was a Nova Scotia-wide response to an unfathomable tragedy. Ordinary residents and emergency responders joined a months’ long crash recovery period. Many have not come to terms with the trauma they endured.
Tony Rodgers, a Halifax Regional Search and Rescue volunteer, was among a sampling of emergency responders, including RCMP and EHS, who addressed the gathering.
“Twenty years ago Nova Scotia Ground Search and Rescue took part in the largest mutual aid ground search and recovery operation in Nova Scotia history,” said Rodgers before reading from a prepared quote. “Our volunteers, along with RCMP, spent 64 days on the ground, a combined 48,780 hours 3,140 person days…
“Some people survive and talk about it, some people survive and go silent, some people survive and create. Everyone deals with unimaginable pain in their own way and everyone is entitled to that without judgement...”
But as much as Sunday’s service was about loss, it was also marked with signs of hope and healing.
“I wanted people to have the opportunity to come together to share all those feelings and just move on to another phase,” said Rev. Quennelle. “The more times we come together and reinforce good things, the things that are bad, disasters are not forgotten but they are opportunities where we might live our lives in appreciation of those who lost theirs.”
In tears after the ceremony, Traci Hauer made the journey from the U.S. to attend Sunday’s service. She lost her mother and stepfather, Karen and Leonard Kleinman, in the crash. She was joined by her husband, sister Teri Brown and her stepfather’s sister Maris Delano.
“What I remember is the kindness of the RCMP officers when we arrived here after the crash,” said Hauer. “They had trailers in Peggys Cove and they were so gentle. They gave us candy and teddy bears.
“But it’s also heartbreaking to be here because it brings up a lot of memories of being back there. They were talking about all the recovery workers and the RCMP and they were such a huge part of that time for us.”
Her sister agreed.
“I remember driving up to Peggys Cove and all the signs saying, Never Forget and In Remembrance,” said Brown. “They all came out holding these signs. It was a community tragedy, it wasn’t just ours. The fact that everyone came together 20 years later, that people haven’t just said, ‘yeah, that was a long time ago,’ it shows that this still really affects people to this day.”
Paul Service, a Halifax ground search and rescue member, said it was a privilege to be part of the service.
“Hugely important,” said Service. “We still have a lot of our veteran members who responded to the incident. So it’s a chance to remember the people who were lost in the crash but also a chance to support our members that have lived with the crash and live with what they went through.
“Sometimes you don’t get to see the whole picture in what you do. There’s a lot of meaning in this, to be with the families and residents. The plaque and those little mementos the Navarros brought along and shared with us was completely unexpected and appreciated beyond words.”