On the ninth anniversary of the Cougar Helicopters Flight 491 tragedy, family members gathered at St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Church in St. John’s to remember their loved ones who died on March 12, 2009, when the chopper crashed in the Atlantic Ocean.
As the families entered the church, a woman sang “Amazing Grace.” In front of her, 17 photographs of the people who died were set in a row at the front of the church: Matthew Davis, John Pelley, Corey Eddy, Tim Lanouette, Thomas Anwyll, Peter Breen, Gary Corbett, Wade Drake, Wade Duggan, Colin Henley, Ken MacRae, Derrick Mullowney, Burch Nash, Paul Pike, Allison Maher, Keith Escott and Gregory Morris.
Only one of the 18 people on board — Robert Decker — survived the crash.
“I remember that day so clearly,” said Alicia Nash, the daughter of Burch Nash, who was 44 years old when he died.
Nash said she was sitting in class during her last year of university.
“I got called to the main office … they were like, ‘this happened, but there’s search and rescue out there,’ and so we didn’t know right away that he had died. So, I had hope, and the hope lasted for about the rest of that day, until they gave up when night came in, and it was cold,” she said.
“It’s very hard to grow up without a dad, and losing your best friend. He was not just my dad, he was my best friend.”
Nash said her father was a kind-hearted, hard-working, “amazing” man.
“He used to play guitar,” she recalled, speaking about some of her most cherished memories of her father while she fought back tears. “He would make up funny songs, and put my name in songs that my name obviously didn’t belong in.”
Nine years later, Nash is now married with two children.
“It definitely doesn’t get any easier. … But his memory is alive every day. There’s not a day that goes by that his name doesn’t get brought up,” she said.
“He is referred to as Poppy Burch. We have pictures of him in the house. The kids know about him. We watch videos to show the kids. My dad would have been an amazing grandfather. I have a boy, and he had three of us girls and always wanted a boy, so, my son, we talk to him about Poppy Burch. … They know who he is. He is alive in them.”
At the service Monday evening, Premier Dwight Ball gave the opening remarks to the church full of family and friends of the crash victims.
“We are gathered here tonight to remember one of the most horrific, tragic days in our history,” Ball said. “I think all of us, nine years ago, can remember where we were … the impact that it had on our communities, our families. … It had an impact on every single region of our province. It had an impact on our country.”
Candles were lit in remembrance during the service. As each of the victims’ names were read, a family member lit a candle, and the rest of the family in attendance stood up.
Rev. Christopher Fowler said the service is a time to remember each of those people, but it’s also more than that.
“It’s remembering that as we go forward, those seventeen lives continue to live in us. They live forever through us, and with us.”