How WestJet Induced PTSD

On June 4th, of 2009, I was on my way to a show in Vernon called Creative Chaos with a load of books in the back of my GMC Astro van. I had scaled the summit of the Kootenay Pass, the highest pass in British Columbia, and was cruising down the other side, when I came around a corner and saw two vehicles on either side of the highway. The one on the left hand side, had its hood up and was obviously overheated from its ascent of the incline; the other (going the same direction as I was), was barely coasting down the right hand side of the road straddling the shoulder. I assumed that the driver in my lane was going to stop to assist the other vehicle and veered to the centre of the highway to stay clear of him. I was going highway speed when he apparently looked in his rear view mirror, saw no one coming in his lane, and veered sharply to the left. I hit the Ford 4x4 truck on the driver’s door, was forced across the highway and plunged over the steep rocky incline. My vehicle hit a tree about 50 feet from its base, and landed upside down and backwards. The boxes of books I was taking to the sale, fortunately blew out the back doors before the vehicle rolled end for end twenty-five to thirty more times down the incline. It finally came to a teetering halt on a ridge of rock resting against a small tree.

            I was totally conscious and in a meditative state for every moment of that incident with everything happening as if in slow motion. When the thrashing ended, I was still in my seat, but the roof of the car had been smashed down so badly that a five year old child could not have sat upright. The horn was blowing incessantly, and smoke was coming from under the dash. Blood was trickling down my face, my neck was in pain, my right arm was numb, and I was not able to move it. I was certain my neck was broken, and knew that I had to keep from doing anything that could cause further damage to my spinal cord. I managed to release my seat belt with my left hand, and slumped to the floor between the two bucket seats behind the console. The horn kept blaring and overheating badly, and smoke continued to filter into the interior of the vehicle. One internal voice kept telling me to try and get out of that prison before the car burst into flames, the other repeatedly told me to stay put or risk permanent paralysis where I’d spend the rest of my days in a wheel chair. I was not overly enthralled with either alternative. Partly because I was in shock and unable to do much more than keep breathing, I remained slumped between the seats and continued to focus on my breath.

Watch the Video From the Crash

            It seemed like an eternity before I heard a man’s voice ask, “are you all right?” A trucker had made his way down the bolder strewn escarpment wondering how many corpses he was about to find. I told him that my neck was broken and my right arm paralysed. He asked what he could do to help, and told me that he had already called 911 on his satellite phone. I begged him to please shut that horn up. Through the diminished space that was once the driver’s window, he attacked the already battered, misshapen steering wheel with a passion. The horn finally fell silent. When he could see there was little he could do to free me from the cocoon of metal that encased me, he returned to his truck to make another call.

            Within minutes of his leaving, the horn began blaring again, and smoke once more began to filter through the vehicle. I remained motionless in the same location and forced my attention back to focusing on the air that flowed back and forth through my nostrils.

            I have no idea how long it was before the second man appeared. He talked to me long enough to tell me that help was on the way, but I don’t remember if I even answered him. I was totally focused on each breath as it made its way into my nostrils and flowed back out…nothing else mattered. I heard some banging and the sound of metal grating on metal, and the horn finally fell silent. I remember a distant voice suggesting that he had disconnected the battery cable.

            It was around 11:30 AM when my vehicle left the highway and God knows how long before I heard sirens wail in the distance…it was 4:30 that afternoon when the helicopter left the highway to take me to the Trail hospital. I was encapsulated in that twisted wreckage for hours before the Salmo and Beasely search and rescue teams managed to get the jaw of life positioned to cut me free.

            That crew was the most fantastic group of volunteers that I could ever have asked to be rescued by, and I will post another blog to describe the heroics they went through to get me onto the highway. I only wish that they could have been there to rescue me from the horrific experience that I had on West Jet flight 675 from Toronto to Calgary.

            On my way to Huatulco Mexico I had a five hour flight with an upgrade to the Plus section of the plane. On my way back I had to fly to Toronto, and then on to Calgary on a separate flight. From the moment I got to the Huatulco airport I started asking for an upgrade for my 37 inch legs and 6 foot 10 frame, but was told that I would have to wait till I got to Toronto to make the request. At least on the flight to Toronto, I had an aisle seat and got relief by dangling one leg into the communal walk space. With only an hour to get through customs and to the new gate of departure, I had little time to try and upgrade when I finally arrived at my gate. When I got there, the agent at the booth was curt and rude and informed me that it was a full flight with no chance of change. I accepted my fate and sat waiting to board and be seated in 9B.

            I couldn’t believe the tight seat that I was forced to cram myself into. There was absolutely no room for me squish myself in without feeling pain. The woman by the window seat asked me, “how are you going to survive a 5 hour flight like that?” The man in the isle seat shook his head and said, “that’s why I never fly West Jet any more. I couldn’t get an Air Canada flight or I sure wouldn’t be here.”

            I told him that I thought West Jet was supposed to be the salvation of the Canadian airline industry, but he assured me that the days of West Jet being a superior airline were long gone. He went on to say that although Air Canada staff can sometimes be a bit abrupt, he can at least open his lap top on an Air Canada flight…you sure can’t do that on a West Jet flight.

            I closed my eyes and started focusing on my breath, certain that I could somehow survive this turn of fortune. Finally the plane started moving as we were being towed from our birth. The engines fired up. The plane moved ahead ten or twenty feet. Then, the engines both died, and the plane came to a halt.

            The guy next to me shook his head and said, “not again…the last time I flew West Jet they cancelled on me and I had to get another flight the next morning.”

            We sat squirming in our seats for 20 minutes until a red faced pilot came out of the cockpit and announced that the instruments on his side of the plane had gone dead and that we would have to wait until a flight crew would come and see if they could remedy the situation. We sat there for an hour and a half waiting for the announcement that the flight would indeed be cancelled, until the pilot announced that they “seemed” to have things under control and we would soon be taking off. Not once during that time, did a stewardess offer water or pretzels, or anything in the way of refreshment to at least help quell the frustration of the passengers.

            My legs were numb by the time we were in the air and I was in meditation mode trying to stay focused on my breath and forget the pain of my knees that were compressed into the cracks between the seats in front of me. That’s when the sawed-off little jerk in front of me cranked his seat back and my hand rammed the seat with such force that it threw him forward. He summoned the stewardess and she, in fact, told me that he had the right to put his seat back.

            “Put his seat back where?” I asked pointing to my already scrunched knee caps. She shrugged, gave me a meek smile, and walked away. For the rest of that flight I was back in that GMC Astrovan focusing on my breath trying to separate myself from the reality of the situation. Again, and again, I told myself that breath was all.

            I hobbled off the plane in Calgary with bruised and battered knee caps more than two and a half hours later than our scheduled 12 AM arrival time. I will never fly West Jet again!


Watch the Video From the Crash