My story is difficult to write. I am a Canadian Forces Veteran. While
I did not go to a war theatre, I was responsible for repairing and
sending the cc130 Hercules aircraft out on missions along with my
coworkers. I was part of the ground crew in 5 hanger a CFB Edmonton in
1989. On January 29, 1989 as I drove into work in the dark I heard on
the radio that a Hercules aircraft had crashed. Then they announced
the names of the dead. I knew all the members of the air crew, one was
a close friend.
The hanger we worked in was very close knit and everyone knew
everyone. I was the only Judy in the building. I was also married to a
navigator, who was flying out east at the time of this crash. I cannot
describe the sadness and anxiety that came with the news of losing an
aircraft full of friends. The whole hanger was in mourning that day,
we lost a part of our family. I lost my friend whom I had just come
back from temporary work assignment with.
The funerals to follow were a blur to me. I accompanied my friend’s
family to CFB Trenton, where his funeral was to be held. My husband
said he didn’t recognise me when I got off the plane. I was pale and
numb. I explained to him that for a week after the crash I had to help
with the return of the bodies from the crash site to Edmonton. I was
ground crew and that was part of my job.
I then experienced the recovery of the aircraft. The plane, you need
to understand is also a part of our family of mechanics. We know each
one intimately, which one leaks and which one creaks. To see this
plane with its belly ripped out, and knowing exactly where my friend
would have been standing upon impact was disturbing to say the least.
The days that followed had the plane parts being sent to Edmonton.
For some reason, that none of us can or ever will understand, they
laid out the plane parts across 5 hangers floor. I did not know this
at first because it was on the other side of the hanger. It wasn’t
until after the funeral that I had to venture to that side. As I
walked around a corner I came upon the caution taped area and what lay
within that area. There was broken, burned, crushed uncleaned parts of
the plane that my friend had died in. It was spread out across the
floor. It was a vision that I cannot un-see, or unsmell. It was like
the crash happened all over again. I was devastated. It was the
breaking point of trying to “suck it up” as we are trained to do,
except I couldn’t show anyone that I was broken. If I showed weakness,
I would have been viewed as a female who couldn’t cut it. I would have
been viewed as weak and my career would be shut down. There was no
allowance for weakness. There was no therapy and I had to endure the
pain along with everyone else. We all shut down in some way, and we
had to push it out of our minds or we would never be able to fly again
or work on planes again. I had to block it out of my mind and never
talk about it again. I had to suck it up and take it. And I did, for
over 30 years.
Then one day, working as a peace officer, I was beaten up by a man I
had in custody. I thought I was fine, and I took it on the chin and
carried on with my new career. My body healed, my mind…not so much.
The assault, I have since learned through therapy, was a trigger. It
put me back into the mindset I had after the crash. I was helpless to
protect. I was helpless to help. I felt alone and abandoned and
completely useless. I was in a very dark hole. I cried, I couldn’t
move, I couldn’t concentrate and I had no idea what the hell was wrong
with me. After about a month of anxiety attacks and crying I went to
my doctor. She took one look at me and said “what is going on?” to
which I cried. I explained the assault and she explained PTSD, which I
denied I had. It wasn’t until I was outside one day and an aircraft
flew over my house, a CC130. I crumbled. I started to shake, I felt
dizzy and I started to sweat. The sound I once called the “sound of
freedom” that of a CC130 Hercules aircraft, was and is now the trigger
sound that has forced my heart to pound, my eyes search the sky and I
want to cover my ears and hold my breath until the sound stops. The
assault had brought me back to the day of the crash. That is how PTSD
works. It holds you in one spot. It has no time limit. It can rear its
ugly head at any time.
I have since moved away from the air base to avoid the sounds. My
marriage has ended because as a flyer, my ex-husband could not
acknowledge my PTSD or how it related to a plane crash.
I spent a day with Elizabeth and Robert from Kingston 4 paws and one
of their trainees, Moon Beam. We were in Trenton, and as we talked a
plane flew overhead. It was obvious that it bothered me, and Elizabeth
suggested I pat the dog that was laying by my feet. By concentrating
on the dog, I could feel the stress and tension leaving my body. I
really wasn’t sure if a service dog could help me, until that moment.
The dog laid her head on my feet and that pressure alone took me from
hearing that plane to feeling grounded. I was able to see for a brief
moment, life without anxiety and fear. It is the life I want back.