March 10, 2019, Ethiopian Airlines 302, Darcy Belanger

March 10, 2019

At dawn on March 10, 2019, Rishi’s concerned voice woke me up from a couple of hours of sleep. He told me that a plane headed to Nairobi, Kenya had crashed in Ethiopia. There were no survivors—and no one had heard from Darcy, who had been scheduled to be on that flight, on his way to the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-4).

Misinformation and anxious messages from colleagues poured into my phone. Still in pyjamas, I shifted immediately into CEO mode. I encouraged everyone who knew about the crash not to jump to conclusions. After all, we had no hard knowledge of Darcy’s location. He missed connections often on his recurring travel to move MAPS forward.

But it soon became clear that Darcy had been among the 157 people who died on board Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. The first confirmation came from our Kenyan MAPS Ambassadors Omesa and Bonface, who had been waiting for Darcy at the Nairobi airport. Omesa wrote Darcy’s name down in a trembling hand and passed the inquiring note to the Ethiopian Airlines help desk. The person behind the counter slowly checked through the flight manifest for Darcy’s name. Then he looked up with regret on his face. In words that Omesa told me still echo through his mind, the agent said, “He was indeed on that plane. I am so sorry.”

Could it be true? For a moment, I imagined Darcy relaxed at a cafe in an airport lounge, waiting to catch the next flight. Then Darcy’s wife Amie texted us that she had heard back from the Canadian embassy with the confirmation that he had been aboard the plane.

I could hardly breathe. The final confirmation would come that evening, when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police visited Darcy’s parents in Edmonton with the formal notification. But before then, I knew it was for me to steer our MAPS ship through this storm.

First, I had to share the devastating news with our group. I quickly dressed, then gathered them for an emergency remote video meeting. How could I shelter those I love, and who loved Darcy, from inevitable heartbreak?

With my eyes welling up and emotion gripping my throat, I turned to Rishi and whispered, “What can I possibly say?” The distress on his face mirroring my own, we gazed at each other for a moment that seemed like an eternity. I had to steady our crew and keep us on course, though my inner and outer world felt as if a hurricane had struck.

As the statement of Darcy’s death left my lips, I watched faces of team members crumple into shock and grief. Surges of pain pressed behind my chest as though it was going to explode. But I knew that the group was looking to me, in their anguish and disbelief, for guidance to make sense of this unimaginable turn of events.

Through tears, I kept the meeting focused on gratitude for Darcy. Then we held a few minutes of silence and visualized angels carrying him onward.

In the chaos of the storm, our group united in grief and love. Darcy had demonstrated his commitment to MAPS every day. His legacy would be what MAPS is about: the courage that recognizes our inherent interconnection and the action that arises out of compassion for all.

Each one of us resolved to move MAPS forward with the same courage Darcy had. Vandana immediately volunteered to shift to Kenya time and be available by videoconference for Darcy’s scheduled meetings, which ran through the night for her in Vancouver. I asked Omesa if he would be willing to carry on in Darcy’s absence at UNEA-4, to which he graciously agreed.

Like lightning in the dark, insights flashed into my mind for our next steps. I assigned tasks to my colleagues and, as much as we were able in those initial hours, we mobilized for MAPS, as Darcy would have wanted us to.

By Parvati Devi