I was working at Halifax International a few years ago. One night my friend and I were out doing some AVOP D training (driving along the runways & taxiways). We were on the approach road to 24 when I heard ground talking to the rescue vehicles. She was telling them things like souls on board, fuel in tonnes. I called her up and told her I'd head back to the hanger as there was obviously something going on.
On my way back I heard her say that the crew was reporting smoke in the cockpit, then a moment later they were declairing an emergency. I became quite concerned, I knew it was a large aircraft as she had said there were 230 souls and 240 tonnes of fuel (later this became the total weight of the aircraft at the time of the emergency).
I drove to the end of 06 with some guys from work and swiched my radio to 119.2 to listen in. "Swissair 111 Moncton center do you copy?", "Swissair 111 Moncton center do you copy?". I figured that they had gone into Shearwater an airforce base just on the coast, because no one could raise them. Then I heard a speedbird flight call in and offer assistance.
About 5 minutes later a G-1 operated by Airwave transport departed 24 for Moncton. When they contacted center they were asked if they would go over the last reported radar position to see if there was anything there. "Tell me if you can see any flairs, fire, rafts anything" the controller said. They circled for about 5 minutes but saw nothing. When they went on course for Moncton one of the pilots asked center what kind of plane it was they were looking for, so they could fill out a delay report. When the controller came back and said an MD-11 my heart jumped.
I went down to Peggy's cove that night, it was crazy. This story can go on for a while so I'll leave it at that. Anyway that's the closest I've come.
I'll never forget that night
My sympathy goes out to all those involved