‘It’s hard to forget it’: AC624 passengers say coping isn’t easy

HALIFAX – The aircraft has been removed from the runway, but the psychological effects of Air Canada flight 624’s crash landing may linger for some time.

Leon Yu, 11, is still a little shaken up. The Grade 6 student was a passenger on the flight, which crash landed at the Halifax International Airport early Sunday morning.

WATCH: Extended interview with 11-year-old Leon Yu, talking about how he has been coping psychologically with the trauma of the event.

READ MORE: Timeline of AC624 crash

Global News first spoke with Yu and his mom, Cathy Zhang, an hour after the crash. On Wednesday, when Global News caught up with them again, it was apparent the crash was still on Yu’s mind.

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RELATED: Exclusive: AC624 passenger video shows scene on tarmac minutes after landing

The 11-year-old was napping when the Airbus A320 began its descent onto the runway. He told Global News how he slid in his seat as the plane bounced then skidded on the runway.

READ MORE: Live blog AC624 crash lands at Halifax airport

Yu said he had trouble sleeping right after the incident.

RELATED: New photos show aerial view of AC624 crash site

“I was going over it in my head. It was scary that night for me. I kept going over [it] and it was really scary,” he said.

He said he has been having trouble sleeping ever since, though Tuesday night he finally managed to get a good night’s rest.

“I was looking at the pictures [of the damage] and it was really scary,” Yu said.

But the hardest part for the young passenger has been trying to move past the incident. He has difficulty talking about the crash landing.

“I get a bit disturbed because a lot of people are asking me about [the crash]. It’s disturbing and annoying how everyone asks me,” he said.
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“I just want it to be all forgotten but it’s hard to forget it.”

READ MORE: Pilot says he’s diverted from Halifax more than any other airport

Passengers need to speak up rather than shut down

Clinical psychologist Dr. Diane Birch said talking about traumatic events is critical.

WATCH: Extended interview with Dr. Diana Birch. She talks about what the passengers of Air Canada flight 624 might be going through psychologically and when they should consider seeking professional help.

Birch works with patients dealing with anxiety and trauma and said it is common for people to experience symptoms of nightmares, flashbacks, irritability and being overly watchful.

“I think of it as cycling back and forth between these symptoms of being on guard and the mind saying ‘Remember this because it was very frightening. You have to watch out for those kinds of dangers’ and the opposing reaction, which is to try and not remember,” she said.

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“Sometimes the mind itself just shuts down. There will be blank periods or they find they’re shut down in the way of not having normal relations with other people.”

Birch said it is often natural for people to view the world with a sense of foreboding and to see it as a scary place after a traumatizing incident, but she said that is where friends and family come in.

“Some of the very best thing that people can do in order to move on from an incident like this is to talk to other people,” she said, adding that avoiding the subject could possibly hurt in the recovery process.

“In general that’s very, very important and for some people that will be enough. The memories will happen less often. They’ll begin to be more of their normal selves and they’re able to concentrate.”

However, Birch said roughly 10 per cent of people will experience more severe symptoms.

“Sometimes for one reason or another, someone will become stuck and unable to move forward with it. If after a month or so nothing is getting better and all this is seriously interfering with their life, it’s definitely time to get some help.”

Birch said it will be important for passengers who were on board Air Canada flight 624 to confront any fears they may have about flying and expose themselves to getting near a plane again.

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“It’s absolutely necessary in order to get over these traumas. You need to expose yourself to the memories even though they somewhat cause a certain amount of anxiety.”

RELATED: Some AC624 passengers seek compensation through court

Family tries to move past plane crash

Cathy Zhang, Yu’s mom, said life has returned to normal since the crash. She said she is focusing on how her family survived rather than how they almost died.

“We’re pretty happy we’re still alive. That’s the main thing for us. We are so lucky we survived the crash,” she said.

“I feel happy everybody is safe. It could have been worse.”

Yu said he doesn’t want to board an airplane anymore but understands he will eventually have to in the future.

He plans to distract himself and think of other things the next time he has to fly.

“When I’m older hopefully I don’t travel so much because I don’t want incidents like that to happen,” he said.

“I just hope it never happens again.”

Air Canada skirts question about support for passengers

Global News reached out to Air Canada multiple times for comment about whether it will be providing passengers with counseling or psychological services.

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The company responded with a comment about how it is delivering luggage to the passengers along with the following statement: “Air Canada’s focus is on assisting our customers and providing the appropriate support they require.”

READ MORE: TSB wraps up examination of AC624 crash in Halifax