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‘Like a nightmare’: Deer Lake woman raising awareness of workplace safety, grief in memory of Cougar helicopter victim

Lori Chynn of Deer Lake places flowers March 12, 2019 at St. John’s International Airport as a memorial to her husband, John Pelley, who lost his life in the crash of Cougar Helicopters Flight 491 on March 12, 2009. Chynn flew to St. John’s to take part in the anniversary events. - Joe Gibbons
Lori Chynn of Deer Lake places flowers March 12, 2019 at St. John’s International Airport as a memorial to her husband, John Pelley, who lost his life in the crash of Cougar Helicopters Flight 491 on March 12, 2009. Chynn flew to St. John’s to take part in the anniversary events. - Joe Gibbons

For the past 10 years, Lori Chynn has been dedicated to giving a voice to her husband, whose own voice was tragically cut short.

It was March 12, 2009, when Chynn received a call that changed her life. The Deer Lake resident was told that her husband, John Pelley, was one of 17 people killed when Cougar Helicopter Flight 91 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean while en route to the Hibernia oilfield.

“It’s hard to explain,” Chynn said in describing that moment.

“It’s like a nightmare, something you see on TV.”

What followed was a very public ordeal, including two inquiries and a lawsuit brought forth by the victims’ families and the crash’s sole survivor against the manufacturer of the aircraft.

The incident had an emotional impact on many Newfoundland and Labrador residents, especially those who worked offshore and their families. The Transportation Safety Board eventually ruled mechanical issues played a role in the crash.

“It’s like a nightmare, something you see on TV.” — Lori Chynn

Chynn has been a public face ever since that tragic day. For the past decade, she’s given numerous presentations focusing on health and safety issues in the workplace and has taken part in various memorials honouring her late husband and the other victims. And she’ll be the guest speaker at the Holy Redeemer Cathedral on Mount Bernard Avenue April 28 as part of a Day of Mourning service and wreath laying ceremony organized by the Corner Brook and District Labour Council. The event gets underway at 2:30 p.m.

never intended to be in the limelight and says she was a very private person before the events of 2009. But when she and the families of the other victims were told they could speak at the inquiry, “the floodgates” opened, she said.

“I felt I should say something,” she said. “(John) really needed a voice and I should step up to the plate.”

After 10 years, Chynn says while issues around safety have improved, people shouldn’t rest on their laurels. She pointed out that several recommendations stemming from the Transportation Safety Board still haven’t been followed up on.

“We’ve come a long way, but there’s still room for improvement,” Chynn said.

Dealing with grief

Besides workplace safety, Chynn also has keen insight into issues surrounding the mental health and well-being of those dealing with grief. Chynn works as a counsellor at Corner Brook Regional High School, so she’s witnessed stressful and traumatic situations before. Her perspective changed when she herself experience her own personal tragedy and realized how much it took out of a person.

“As time went on, I had to make a decision to work on my grief,” she said. “I knew I had to do it for myself; that didn’t make it any easier.”

She says she was lucky to have strong support from family and friends, as well as her employer, who gave her time off and other supports to deal with her grief. She also credits a local support group for people who’ve dealt with workplace tragedies.

“I knew I had to do it for myself; that didn’t make it any easier.” — Lori Chynn

Chynn has also been able to forge bonds with family members of some of the victims. She hadn’t known any of the victims or their families personally before the 2009 crash, but, “since then, I’m friends with a few of the widows and their family members, and some have been really close friends.”

Events of the last 10 years have encouraged Chynn to make another big change in her life. At 52, she’s planning on a new career in grief and bereavement counselling. She’s currently on leave from her position at the high school and is taking courses with the goal of setting up her own private practice.

Chynn says working through grief isn’t just about counselling, but also about being physically and spiritually healthy.

“Nobody gets out of this world without being affected by grief or loss.”


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