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The Globe and Mail

B.C. plane crash survivor messaged kids goodbye

Firefighters attend the scene of a plane crash in Richmond, B.C. on Thursday Oct. 27, 2011.

Steve Smith/ The Canadian Press/Steve Smith/ The Canadian Press

From her seat, Carolyn Cross could see the captain's worry as he told the passengers the plane had an oil leak, and she sensed the small aircraft she was on was about to smash into the ground. The mother of three reached for her cell phone and messaged her children to say goodbye.

"I told them I would be watching and that I loved them and that I was very proud of them now and who they would become," she said from her hospital bed, her voice breaking.

Ms. Cross was one of seven passengers aboard a Northern Thunderbird Air flight to Kelowna that crashed on Thursday afternoon. The crew had tried to return to the runway at Vancouver International Airport but the plane crash-landed 900 metres short and struck a vehicle. One of the two pilots on board was killed – the other is in critical but stable condition.

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Ms. Cross, chief executive officer of Ondine Biomedical, had been headed to the Okanagan city for a business event. She spoke to The Globe and Mail so she could thank those who risked their lives to save hers.

She described the "sense of peace" she felt after writing the messages to her children – she truly believed it was the end. She could see the runway, but instead of going straight ahead, the pilots cranked hard to the left.

"I realized that they were thinking that they weren't going to make it. So they made a decision to go for the highway."

The plane hurtled into the ground and the interior suddenly filled with gasoline, then smoke. "I looked outside. It was full of fire."

Two men at the back of the aircraft made it out the back door and yelled at the others to hurry. Ms. Cross had a frightening realization – she couldn't feel her legs.

As she worried about how to get out, help arrived. Good Samaritans who had seen the crash raced to the burning aircraft and began pulling passengers out. Ms. Cross called the 20 to 40 people that helped "extraordinary human beings."

"It was the most remarkable act of heroism. That saved our lives."

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Ms. Cross was rushed to Vancouver General Hospital. She said she has broken ribs, fractures in her spine and hip, and punctures in her head. She also lost a few teeth. Doctors haven't indicated when she might be able to leave the hospital.

Northern Thunderbird announced on Friday that pilot Luc Fortin of North Vancouver died as a result of the crash. The 44-year-old had logged 14,000 hours across Canada and around the world. He had been with the company since 2007.

Bill Hesse, the company's general manager, described Mr. Fortin as "just a real good guy." Mr. Fortin was married and had a young daughter.

His co-pilot was Matt Robic, who joined the company in June.

Vancouver Coastal Health said nine people were treated as a result of the plane crash. Two – including Mr. Robic – are in critical condition. Four people are in serious but stable condition. Two people were discharged overnight.

The RCMP had initially said 11 people were taken to hospital after the crash, but later learned that two had been treated at the scene.

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The Transportation Safety Board is investigating the accident. An official cause has not been determined.

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