As the plane was going down, its wings hitting treetop branches, Dave Jonsson considered his life, and how he should have treated people better.
More than a decade later, Love My City Week is Jonsson’s new initiative. It’s coming to just its fourth city, but it’s a movement he hopes will spread across Canada. Saturday, it will come to his own city Pitt Meadows, as volunteers will paint a historic church on Harris Road, and perform other good deeds.
In the spring of 2007, one of Jonsson’s best friends back in his native Iceland, the pilot who was killed in that plane crash, got the idea of a vacation in Canada to ramp up his flying hours. Renting planes was half the price, so he could enjoy a vacation and get flying hours for the same cost as in Iceland.
Guddni Kristinnson was a good pilot, said Jonsson, but not experienced with the hazards that would come his way in the mountains of B.C.
Four friends flew out of Pitt Meadows Regional Airport in a rented Cessna 172 on Aug. 18 that year. Kristinnson had been living in Canada for three months, and it would be their last weekend of flying. They were headed for Squamish and went via Indian Arm – a common route and safe on a clear day, said Jonsson.
But their plane encountered low clouds, and they turned into a narrow canyon with steep walls. It was a no-fly zone. The plane had a full load of passengers, equipment and fuel and could not climb the steep canyon walls fast enough.
“For the very first time when he was flying, my friend showed fear.”
The young pilot tried to turn the plane around inside the canyon, and as he slowed it to try and bring it around, the plane engine stalled.
“His last words were, ‘We’re going down.’”
Jonsson remembers the trees rising up to meet the plane, and thinking about his life.
“My last memory was the wings hitting the trees.”
Then he was knocked unconscious, waking about 15 minutes after the crash.
Kristinnson had been killed.
Jonsson suffered a broken femur, knee ligament damage, and his leg was pinned underneath the seat he was sitting on.
The other passengers helped him to free his legs. They waited in the woods for six hours for an air evacuation. He was in shock. A photo shows his face covered in blood. He thought he might die there.
Jonsson, now 31, had finished high school and was working in construction, using drugs recreationally.
“If I had died in that valley, I would have been not very proud of how I lived my life.”
Facing the end, he said one doesn’t think about having more money, or more friends on Facebook.
“I thought I could have treated people better. At the end of life, what’s most important is relationships.”
The experience changed him.
“It was the day of my rebirth. My second chance.”
He went looking for meaning in his life, an intense pursuit. It led him to study theology.
“In our heart, our essence as human beings, is this desire to love and be loved,” he said.
He is now a pastor with Riverside Community Church in Port Coquitlam, and last year founded Love My City. He works with a team of 10 young adults who are passionate about philanthropy.
“Our vision is to unify the city through simple acts of love,” he said.
Love My City Week is July 6-14. It kicked off last year in the Tri-Cities, with 1,000 volunteers working at eight different sites. They cleaned up 840 cemetery tombstones, and filled 110 bags of garbage with litter, and it was followed by a concert at Lafarge Lake.
Added to the roster of cities involved this year will be Pitt Meadows, and volunteers are being recruited to paint the Pitt Meadows United Church, a 98-year-old heritage building at the corner of Harris and Ford roads that hasn’t been painted in about 20 years.
There are sponsors. Organizers have 8,000 units donated by Coca-Cola, and plan to give them to volunteers, and hand them out to members of the public.
Jonsson thinks about Christmas, and the spirit of giving in the holiday season, and wants to see that same kind of feeling in July each year, just for one week.
“How awesome would it be, where across our nation our cities are bettered by our people for a week.”
• Those interested are asked to sign up at lovemycityweek.com.