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Sad Pilgrimage

Swiss Air Flight 111: 2 September 1998

"He would have loved this place"

-- By Amy Smith

John Mortimer spent his 75th birthday in June surrounded by his family and friends.

At his summer home on the coast of Maine, there were steamed clams, lobster and cake.

"We had no way of knowing that would be the last time we would see him," his daughter Claire said on Saturday.

She was one of about 500 mourners who visited the rocks of Peggys Cove to remember the 229 people killed Wednesday in the crash of Swissair Flight 111.

Ms. Mortimer said her father lived life for the moment.

"He actually said he'd like his family to celebrate his life when he was alive," she told a crush of reporters as she clutched several pink and white flowers.

Her father, a former senior vice-president of the New York Times, and his second wife, Hilda, were on the plane bound for a vacation in France.

Ms. Mortimer said the waters of Nova Scotia were a fitting resting place for her father, since he always wanted his ashes scattered in the Atlantic Ocean.

"In an odd way, it's very comforting to come here and see this beautiful place," she said.

"He would have loved this place."

The skies above Peggys Cove were bright and the winds were strong as the first mourners came to the cove at about 9 a.m.

RCMP Boston Whalers bobbed silently on the whitecaps, and occasionally a Canadian Coast Guard chopper slowly made its way past the famous lighthouse.

Tim Larson, whose wife's nephew and uncle were on the plane, said many family members needed to see the crash site.

"We're somewhat relieved that we're here, and we're kind of going through this really because you just don't know what to do or say," said the 39-year-old from East Hartford, Conn.

"I think most people are resigned to the fact that their loved ones are with their God and their Maker."

"This is such a pretty place," he said, his voice breaking with emotion. Mr. Larson said the family had planned to go to Disney World next year and to Sicily in 2000 for a family reunion.

"And that's not going to happen."

He said the disaster is especially difficult because many relatives will not have a body to take home.

After being briefed in army tents, a trickle of family members and friends appeared. Soon they made their way slowly up the rocks.

Many were carrying bouquets and wreaths, which they later threw into the ocean or tucked into crevices of rocks.

The flowers - roses, snapdragons, daisies, lilies - were supplied by Delta Airlines.

Some clutched teddy bears provided by the Canadian Red Cross for comfort; others wrapped themselves in blankets to warm the chills of shock.

Rudolph Jegge was grieving the loss of his daughter and his wife.

"I am thankful to the Lord he left me my son," he said, with son Alexander by his side.

Mr. Jegge said his son, daughter and wife had flown from Switzerland to Denver 10 days ago to take Alexander to university.

"They were great people, they had big hearts and I am going to miss them a lot," said Alexander.

One mourner shook off the blanket around her shoulders, passed the child she was carrying to the man with her and ran toward the sea. Police stopped her before she reached the water's edge.

A teenage boy, dressed in black, videotaped the picturesque lighthouse before turning to leave.

Several groups gathered near the edge of the rocks in prayer.

A four-year-old girl climbed the rocks, holding the hand of Red Cross worker Kathleen Palmer.

The blond-haired child from Newton, Mass., was there to mourn her aunt.

The day appeared to be too much for one elderly man, who had to be taken off the rock in a stretcher, without having a chance to look out over the water.

He could be heard screaming, "My God, my God," as he was loaded into a waiting ambulance.

John O'Brien, spokesman for the Halifax Regional Municipality, said the man either slipped and fell or collapsed. He was taken to the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre at 3:30 p.m., held for observation and released a couple of hours later.

At the patient's request, hospital staff released no other information.

The 13 Swissair crew members who flew many of the grieving relatives to Nova Scotia also paid their respect at Peggys Cove.

Dressed in official uniforms, they went to the rock and gathered to pray for all who were lost on the flight.

The crew captain, Berner Naef, later spoke briefly to the media.

"It is the will of this crew to join the relatives and the friends in their deep sorrow and grief, and it was the will of this crew to participate here on site and pay tribute to the passengers and crew members, especially since this crew knew many members of the crew of Swissair Flight 111 very well and personally," he said.

Capt. Naef said one of the attendants on Swissair Flight 111 was on her first flight and the plane's captain was looking forward to soon celebrating his 50th birthday with a party in Switzerland.

The crew did not want to answer questions from the media, but thanked reporters and Nova Scotians for the help they have provided.

Atlantic Funeral Homes has been brought in to make arrangements to send some crash victims' remains home, said David MacDonald, vice-president of Memorial Gardens Atlantic.

The company has also offered a site for a monument to be erected.

Halifax Herald, Halifax, N.S. - 8 September 1998

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