Emer­gency re­spon­der re­calls Cze­choslo­vakian air crash

Mem­o­ries still vivid 50 years later

The Beacon (Gander) - - News - BY ADAM RAN­DELL THE BEA­CON Adam.ran­dell@gan­der­bea­con.ca

GAN­DER, NL – It’s not a place his mem­o­ries of­ten go, but Mau­rice Geange can still vividly re­call his in­volve­ment in the emer­gency re­sponse to the Czech air crash in 1967.

The Gan­der res­i­dent was just 26 years old at the time, start­ing his first of 25 years with the airport’s fire de­part­ment.

Just eight months into the po­si­tion, he was called upon to re­spond to the crash that claimed the lives of 35 peo­ple.

“I wasn’t on the re­spond­ing team that went in first, but we were all called in to re­spond to the emer­gency,” he said.

“While the crash oc­curred around 1 a.m. it would be 2:30 a.m. be­fore our team ar­rived on the scene.”

There was no trail lead­ing to the area at that time, so Geange’s team ma­neu­vered an old road to try to po­si­tion them­selves closer to the crash site in­stead of going out from the end of the run­way.

But they couldn’t get across a boggy area, so the team car­ried what­ever emer­gency sup­plies they could – stretch­ers, blan­kets, first aid kits – and started out in heavy fire gear.

“It was bru­tal,” he re­called. “It was pitch black and we were head­ing across the bog, peo­ple were fall­ing in, we were fall­ing in re­ally.”

Ar­riv­ing on the scene, he said, the way the plane had split apart on im­pact cre­ated a ring of fire. Re­spon­ders would have to brave the flames to res­cue some of the crash vic­tims, who were then moved to a safe area.

“One of my big­gest prob­lems at the crash was com­mu­ni­ca­tion. I couldn’t speak to them be­cause we spoke two dif­fer­ent lan­guages,” Geange said. “We knew they were wet, they were cold and in shock, so with the ba­sic ma­te­rial we had we cov­ered them and at­tended to the in­juries as best we could.”

Once the sur­vivors had been ac­counted for, they had to set about re­triev­ing the dead.

While he had played a part in col­lect­ing bod­ies and limbs, out of re­spect, Geange said, “there are some stories that just aren’t meant for print.”

How­ever, he did re­count one par­tic­u­lar story.

Ap­prox­i­mately 11 hours af­ter the crash, the de­part­ment had all the sur­vivors off the bog and was car­ry­ing out a fi­nal search when he thought he heard some­thing.

“I called over my buddy… we lis­tened for a while and by and by we heard it again.”

They came across a sec­tion of plane that had dou­bled over onto it­self.

The noise was com­ing from be­tween the metal.

“We opened it up the best we could with pry bars and when we looked in­side there was woman trapped in there,” he said. “We called Gan­der hospi­tal and got a doctor to come out. We opened it enough for the doctor to crawl in and give her a nee­dle to se­date her. We then got in, pulled her out, and she sur­vived.”

Geange said the wine onboard the plane was trans­ported in wooden crates. When the metal dou­bled over, the crates held the weight, ul­ti­mately sav­ing the woman’s life.

Re­flec­tion

Geange has dealt with nu­mer­ous air­craft crashes through­out his ca­reer –in­clud­ing the Ar­row Air crash that killed all 256 on board in 1985 – and he has learned to cope with the tragedies he has faced.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not on his mind.

“Ev­ery now and again when you’re some­where and it comes up in con­ver­sa­tion, it brings it back,” he said. “I don’t have any trou­ble with it as such, but I do think about it from time to time, and any­body who went through it and says they don’t is telling a lie.”

ADAM RAN­DELL/THE BEA­CON

Mau­rice Geange was only 26 years old and work­ing his first year with the airport fire de­part­ment when he was called to re­spond to the Cze­choslo­vakian Air­lines crash in 1967.

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