Saturday, March 14, 2015

Lone survivor details plane crash in book

Not many people can tell their story of being involved in a plane crash. But Coaldale resident Tom Wilson’s tale is anything from ordinary.

Wilson was the lone survivor of a November 2008 B.C. plane crash that killed seven people. He has since done his own investigation into the crash, including why the pilot made the decision to fly that day, and why the plane was even allowed to fly at all.

He also wanted to share his tale of personal recovery and to tell why he chose now to speak publicly about the incident

Those experiences have all culminated into the book “Moments of Impact,” which he co-authored and intends to formally launch when he attends a construction conference in Edmonton late next month.

“There’s obviously a lot of interest in the story, but I wanted it to be more than that,” Wilson said. “We’ve written a book to try to help people understand pressure and courage.”

Wilson’s seaplane crashed into the side of a mountain on Thormanby Island, off the B.C. coast, about 20 minutes after taking off from Vancouver International Airport. After impact, Wilson, who was 35 at the time, managed to scramble out of the wreckage mere moments before it exploded.

His face and hands were burned and cut, but he walked several kilometres down the mountain to a beach where he was spotted about 4.5 hours later. He told the rescue crew he didn’t know what caused the crash as he was asleep at the time.

“It was international in media attention. I wasn’t prepared or ready to talk to the media. I was still in mourning. I worked on my recovery and personal healing; trying to find a meaning,” Wilson said.

“The entire plane was just ripped to pieces. There was nothing left of it. The Transportation Safety board actually listed it as unsurvivable.”

Two years later, producers at the Discovery Channel told him they wanted to do a re-enactment. Although he struggled with the decision to provide information, thinking there would be too much sensationalism, he ultimately approved of the 20-minute final clip they produced.

He then decided he should speak up.

“That changed my perspective,” Wilson said.

In the book, he describes how all other planes leaving Vancouver that morning had been grounded due to weather. But the veteran coastal pilot, who had recently joined Pacific Coastal Airlines, was contracted to carry construction workers to a remote hydroelectric project.

“You couldn’t see down the runway at all. It was just terrible,” Wilson said.

The pilot told them they would have to do “low-level flying” and “if anyone has a problem with that, let me know and I’ll let you off now.”

“No one was comfortable,” Wilson said. “I end up (in the book) focusing on that moment. Why didn’t I speak up? I didn’t feel safe and I guarantee the other guys didn’t.”

He said he didn’t want to be a nuisance to the other passengers, some who were returning home, and others who needed to get to work. But nobody else spoke up, either, so in the book, he talks about the different pressures involved with human behavior, risk tolerance, courage and bravery.

“I go through how I ended up finding closure,” Wilson said. “I had a lot of survivor’s guilt with keeping my mouth shut. Now I’ve found a way to memorialize these men and use their story as a message.”

Wilson has reached out to the families of each victim, and has shared the completed manuscript with those who wanted to read it. He also said part of the proceeds from “Moments of Impact” will go to the University of Alberta burn ward, where he spent time after the crash.


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