These heroes deserved our public thanks.
* Vancouver Sun, “Video: Plane-crash heroes tell their stories”
“Jeremy Kerr, John Redmond, Haim Peri and Shawn Nagurny share a common bond even if they don’t know one another.
They were among the small group of men who, against all odds, pushed their way into the flaming fuselage of Northern Thunderbird Air Flight 204 to drag injured passengers to safety after the small aircraft crashed Thursday in Richmond, near Vancouver.
None of the men sought public attention in the days after the incident, but they have now come forward, largely out of the cathartic need to talk about what they experienced. The trauma of being thrown into the situation of becoming unexpected heroes has weighed heavily.
As the men carried or dragged the victims out, as many as two dozen other Good Samaritans offered help, carrying the injured to a grassy area not far from the wreckage. Redmond says all who responded — from those who offered first aid to those who sprayed car fire extinguishers on the flaming wreckage in the vain hope of beating back the flames — deserve credit.
But it was Kerr, Redmond, Peri, Nagurny and several as-yet unidentified men who entered the aircraft, suspending common sense to risk their lives for the people on board.
Here are their stories.
[…] At first, he said, he didn’t know why he helped out. It was an autonomic reaction for him to race over, he said. In hindsight, he now knows he did so out of extreme compassion.
“Waiting for help to arrive wasn’t an option,” he said. “If they were my loved ones on board, I would hope that someone would do the same for me.” […]
Some of the events around what happened are blurry to Kerr. He says he doesn’t remember the faces and names of the other heroes who worked with him. “It’s like looking down the barrel of a straw,” he said. “All I can remember is the victims.” […]
[…] He drove straight through an intersection, stopped the car “a little bit too close to the airplane,” grabbed his steering-wheel club in case he needed something to smash through windows to free people, and ran as fast as he could toward the airplane.
“I was on autopilot. I just went, I didn’t think,” he said. […]
“Somebody behind me said ‘Get out of there’ and the man said ‘Not without my wife.’ I think it was the guy who had a broken back.”
Redmond tried to move forward but was impeded by collapsed seats, so he dropped the steering-wheel club, picked up one of the seats and moved it aside. He then shouted out the door that there were more people in the plane who needed help and made his way toward the woman.
“You’re just so focused. And there was smoke coming into the cabin. It was really hot up on top of your head because heat rises. It was like a scene from hell,” he said.
“All I could think about was getting this woman out of this aircraft. And it was really hard because she couldn’t really help. She started regaining consciousness and she said something, I don’t know what it was … I got a lungful of smoke.” […]
[…] A few weeks before Northern Thunderbird Air’s Flight 204 came down near Vancouver International Airport, Peri’s 30-year-old daughter Leigh told the family she had cancer. “It was like taking a hammer over the head,” said the Israeli-born grandfather and father of seven (four stepchildren with wife Aliza, and three kids from a previous marriage). […]
Just before 4 p.m., Peri, 60, was having a cigarette outside a friend’s north-facing office at Gilbert Road and Russ Baker Way.
“I see this plane coming. It crashed right in front of my eyes.”
It “roared,” when it came down, he recalled, “and I’m hard of hearing.”
Peri dropped his cigarette and sprinted to the burning plane, joining a few other rescuers already scrambling around the opening. “It was an inferno.”
Four decades removed from his Israeli military duties as a landmine specialist, the former soldier’s instincts took hold.
Peri saw a woman sprawled on the floor. “I thought her legs were broken. I’m not a doctor, but her ankles were twisted,” he said.
Peri and another man seized her. “But it was hard to move her,” so Peri took a step into the burning fuselage to get a better grasp. They pulled her out and carried her away from the wreckage.
“She told me, my name is Lorelei. I wiped her face … she said ‘I can’t feel my legs, my feet’. I was praying to God, please, I don’t want her to have a broken back.” Peri touched her leg, and luckily, she felt it.
She immediately started asking about her husband, Cameron Sobolik, another passenger on the plane. “I could see the fear in her face.” A rescuer sitting with an injured passenger about five metres away said it was Cameron. “Your husband is fine,” Peri told her. “You’ll be going home.” […]
Knowing that she’s still there for her family is a reward for his efforts, Peri said, adding that if God was watching last Thursday, then maybe “He will help my daughter.”
[…] He was amazed to see at least one passenger walk out of the plane on their own. Others were carrying victims out. He didn’t think twice about going into the plane himself, and found an injured woman. He lifted up the front part of her body while another rescuer worked to free her legs, which had become entangled in the seating. The smell of the jet fuel was overpowering.
“It was so thick, you were, like, drinking it. It took me a good day and a half to get the jet-fuel taste out of my mouth,” said Nagurny, who had to throw his shoes away afterward.
“The real thing I can remember is slipping in the jet fuel, because it was all over the ground at the time, and I looked to my left towards the wing and noticed that the fire was just coming up the wing, right toward us. We knew we had to get the lady out, so we really just heaved her and dragged her right out of the plane as fast as we could,” he said, adding that he could see the woman was conscious and feel the heat from the approaching flames.”