I’ll never fly again

This was the only interview with a survivor of a 737 jet crashed which killed 41 people in February, 1978. As editor of the local daily, the Cranbrook Townsman, I was in touch with Canadian Press in Vancouver who had heard that he was a crash survivor. While the editor called every White in the phone book, I called an advertising rep who knew everybody in town. He and I went to their home and I got the first interview. It was a general release on the CP wire and I even dictated it over the phone to the hard-boiled editor of a supermarket tabloid in New York.

I’ll never fly again

by Stu Ducklow
Editor, Cranbrook Townsman

David White, 20, of Calgary, might not have survived the crash of a Pacific Western Airlines jet here Saturday had he not been late for the plane.

In an interview in his parents’ home Saturday evening, White, one of two people to walk away from the crash scene, described what happened.

“I must have hit every red light on the way to the airport. I even got stopped by a train,” said White, a second-year physical education student at Mount Royal College in Calgary, who flew home to visit his parents, Anne and Bill McKay.

“I ran onto the plane … I was the last guy on. I walked down the aisle looking for a window seat.” Though he has flown on aircraft about 50 times in his life, David said he’d never sat “that far back” in an aircraft before. He took the last seat on the right of the aircrft, sitting alone next to the window.

“The flight was just brutal,” he said of the abnormally heavy turbulence the aircraft encountered on the way to Cranbrook. He kept his safety belt on the whole time.

He said the aircraft started what seemd a normal descent on its approach pattern, but didn’t seem to flare out, or flatten its glide path as much as normal just before touching down.

“It hit the runway so hard — I never felt anything like that before. It his so hard it lifted me off my seat,” then the aircraft bounced into the air and the power came back on.

Davide, who was watching the starboard engine on the aircraft said one of the two scoop-shaped thrust reversers that swings back behind the engine exhaust to redirect the thrust “flipped away like something had snapped. — I don’t think it (the damage to the reverser) was caused by the bounce.

“It flipped off and we started to bank super-hard to the left. Then it pivoted” or yawed with his side on the outside of the turn.

He said the thrust from the two jet engines must have been imbalanced because of the broken thrust reverser on one side.

I thought, “They’re really banking it hard” and then “whomp! we hit. I was thrown around and then I saw this orange flash way in front of me, but I didn’t feel any heat.”

After the aircraft stopped “I tore off my seatbelt and headed to the door of the plane. There was a stewardess (Gail Bunn, of St. Albert, Alta., also a survivor) banging on the door. She was freaked out. I shook her a bit and we both pushed on the door.

“We walked out onto the snow. I was half dragging her. She was in shock. I wasn’t really shocked at all but I’m really coming down now,” he said in our conversation hours after the crsh.

“We walked about halfway from where the tail (which had split off from the aircrft) was to the runway (about 150 feet from the wreckage). Then I think I heard someone moan — a girl’s voice. She said something like “help me”. The stewardess wanted to turn back, but he grabbed her to prevent her from doing so. Then he left the stewardess and headed for the girl himself.

“She was in a seat beside her mother in the snow. Her mother was dead. I unhitched her belt and packed her out. The stewardess still wanted to go back, but I kept saying “no”, I was afraid it would explode. We walked to the runway. A truck ploughed right through the snow then just came flying down the runway. I gave them the girl,” whom he learned later, was 11 years old.

He said he and the stewardess sat in a truck for about half an hour before they were taken to Cranbrook and District Hospital. The stewardess told him people had been “chucked into the trees.” He said he could see flames leaping 20 feet over the tail from the main body of the aircraft which was obscured from his vision by the tail.

The wreckage he described as “bits and pieces. They’re never going to find all those people.”

He said seven or eight people were in the tail section of the aircraft that broke away from the main body. About five rows of seats ahead of him were contained in the section that broke off.

The aircraft had refuelled in Calgary, he said, and the flight had only taken 15 or 20 minutes so there was a lot of fuel to burn. “All I could see was flame and smoke” when he got outside the aircraft. The orange flash he saw sounded like a subdued explosion: “it just went whoomp! It just ripped through the plane, but I didn’t feel anything. Even my hair wasn’t burned.”

He said the aircrft must have slammed into the ground near the end of the runway “at least 150 miles per hour.” The left wing and nose seemed to hit at the same time.

He and the stewardess were taken to the hosptial in a police car. An orderly looked at him “and couldnt believe was in the crash.”

Aside from pulled stomach muscles caused by his seat belt holding him down in the impact, he has no injuries and wasn’t even given a sedative.

“But I’ll never fly again. Not unless I absolutely have to.”