Yellowknife, NWT – Allan Shortt drives past the scene every day.
“I live there. It’s still fresh in my mind,” he says, thinking back to September 22, 2011 – the day a float plane crashed in Yellowknife’s Old Town, killing both pilots.
Shortt (pictured, right) was one of the first on the scene, helping all seven of the flight’s passengers to safety.
Three years on, he and seven other rescuers will receive medals of bravery from the Governor General at a ceremony in Ottawa on Tuesday morning.
Also to be honoured are Kent Bissell, Roderick Brown, Matthew Grogono, Mike Murphy, Sergio Rodriguez Sanchez, David Swisher and Gregory Van Langenhove.
Below, Shortt recalls what happened on the day the Arctic Sunwest Charters flight crashed, how he fought to save 26-year-old co-pilot Nicole Stacey (pictured, left), and how the tragedy could have been far worse.
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Allan Shortt: “I was one of the first people on the scene of the crash. It was a really blustery fall day and the wind was doing weird things – it was gusting, then it would slow down.
“I was going home because my cellphone had died, so I had to get my charger.
“As I was driving, I saw a plane bank and go 90 degrees, so I was looking right at the floats and underbelly of the plane. It cartwheeled behind some trees into Old Town, so I stepped on the gas and went tearing around.
“It was like a bad movie. You had power lines down, and cable, and phone. As you ran close to the plane, there was fuel all over and the engines were smoking.
“I heard the people screaming. As I crossed the wing that was laying on the ground, Mike Murphy and Roddy Brown were coming up, and the three of us helped get the passengers out of the plane.
“Once all the passengers were out and a safe distance from the plane, we found a fire extinguisher. Rod Brown grabbed it and started trying to put the smoldering motors out.
“I went back around to the front of the plane, and Matthew Grogono and I got the pilot out. We carried him north of the plane. He was in pretty rough shape – he had froth and foam coming out of his mouth. He obviously had a lung injury, he was in considerable pain.
“We got him to a safe spot north of the plane and the first responders started helping him.
“We went back and Matthew went in the pilot’s side, to try to get the co-pilot’s seatbelt off. I went around to the co-pilot’s door.
“She was a fairly small woman, the co-pilot, Nicole. Finally, we were able to get her seatbelt off.
“I picked her up and carried her across the street. She was looking into my eyes as I carried her, but she passed away right where we left her.
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Allan Shortt: “The great thing is that seven people got out alive. It’s a great honour to get this award for something like this. We’re grateful to be recognized.
“I think about how fortunate we were. When the plane cartwheeled and hit the building, it landed on some cars – there was nobody in the cars, and nobody in the building it hit.
“When it span around, the tail of the plane was probably 50 feet from three 250-pound propane tanks. If we’d had a fire and the propane went up, or the fuel from the plane went up, it would have been a major disaster.
“When the wing caught the power lines, it pulled the lines out of the transformer. So all the lines that we were scared were alive, were actually dead when the electricians got there. If they had been alive and we’d had a spark, it could have been a totally different story.
“The daughter of a friend of mine was on the plane – his wife was the music teacher that taught my children – that was quite a coincidence.
“Three weeks before, I had actually been on that very plane. It could have happened to me, just as it happened to them.”
The Governor General’s citation: “On September 22, 2011, Kent David Bissell, Roderick Brown, Matthew Grogono, Mike Murphy, Sergio Rodriguez Sanchez, Allan Shortt, David Swisher and Greg Van Langenhove played a vital role in the evacuation of several passengers from a float plane that had crashed in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.
“Without any thought for their own safety, the rescuers entered the aircraft and provided assistance to the victims. Despite the heavy smoke coming from the engine, the leaking fuel, and the risk of explosion, they managed to bring the victims to safety.”