Air traffic control tapes of Swissair Flight 111 have finally been released after a legal battle that went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.
The ATC tapes, released by the Canadian Press, have not been made public since the 1998 crash that killed 229 people.
The tapes contain hours of recording including the final dramatic 12 minutes of the flight before the aircraft plunged at high speed into St. Margaret's Bay, N.S., near Halifax.
"Swissair one eleven is declaring pan pan pan we have smoke in the cockpit," one pilot said.
"Pan pan pan" means there is an emergency on board the aircraft, but that there is no immediate danger.
Later, another said, "We are declaring emergency now" (this can be heard on part four of the audio link to the right).
They were told they could commence the fuel dump, discussed altitude and the approach to Halifax airport with air traffic controllers. They were asked to advise when it was complete.
There was one last garbled "hello," then presumably electrical failure cut off communications. About six minutes after the last transmission, everyone was dead.
The MD-11 aircraft left New York for Geneva on Sept. 2, 1998.
The aircraft smashed into the dark water off Peggy's Cove at 10:31 p.m. Atlantic Time at an estimated 550 kilometres an hour, killing everyone onboard and shattering the plane into literally millions of tiny fragments.
The impact of the jet hitting the water made seismographic needles in Moncton and Halifax flutter as if an earthquake had struck.
Vic Gerden, chief investigator into the crash, said families of the victims have not yet heard the audio although they were briefed extensively at the time of the disaster.
"I don't recall them having the opportunity to listen to the tapes,'' Gerden, who retired last year, told the Canadian Press from Winnipeg.
Some family member predicted the tapes would be hard to hear, even after so many years.
"These things bring an event back to people, the family members, who've put a lot of time and distance between the crash ... and their losses,'' Miles Gerety, who lost his brother Pierce in the crash, told the Canadian Press from his home in Redding, Conn. "I think it would be hard to hear.''
After the crash, the Transportation Safety Board refused to release the ATC audio, saying it contained personal information.
John Reid, then Canada's information commissioner, initially supported the refusal. "In my view, the voices, along with the tonal and emotive characteristics, constitute personal information of three air traffic controllers and the two pilots,'' he ruled in 1999.
Reid eventually reversed on his decision after he received complaints about the board's refusal to release audio from four other air disasters.
He fought the board and Nav Canada all the way to the Supreme Court, which eventually ruled the transmissions should be released to the public.
The ruling brings Canada in line with countries that have allowed ATC recordings to be available for years.
*If anyone wants teh transcripts you should get in touch with me directly.