Swiss perspectives in 10 languages

Pilot’s widow rebuilds life after tragedy

Prisca Zimmermann is surrounded by reminders of her late husband, Urs

Prisca Zimmermann, the widow of the pilot killed in the Swissair disaster in September 1998, has rebuilt her life as a stewardess.

A year after the crash, which killed all 229 people on board, Zimmermann conquered her fears by returning to her job at 35,000 feet.

It took over four and a half years to draw conclusions about what led the MD-11 to plunge into St Margaret’s bay, near Peggy’s Cove in Halifax.

But for the families of the victims, finding answers will remain a life-long challenge.

For Prisca Zimmermann – whose husband, Urs, was the captain of Swissair flight 111 – putting the pieces of her life back together has been a painstaking process.

Reminders of Urs

There are reminders of Urs throughout the office in the Zimmermann home: photos of him with friends and family, a stack of newspaper articles covering the tragedy, the last image of the couple taken weeks before he died, an urn with his ashes.

After the crash, Prisca says she felt completely lost despite a tremendous outpouring of support from family and friends.

“I remember the following weeks, even months, I didn’t function normally. I would sit in a corner reading letters from friends and from the whole world … I didn’t know how to go on, I was switched off,” Zimmermann told swissinfo.

“But step-by-step I came back,” she said.

Swissair Stewardess

A big step towards healing came a year after the crash when the former stewardess did something rather extraordinary – she contacted her late husband’s employers, Swissair, and asked for a job.

Prisca said she missed the friendships that she and her husband had developed at Swissair.

Her three children – aged 15, 13 and 11 at the time of the crash – missed the stories and experiences that their father would bring home from around the world.

“The children started to say: Mummy why don’t you start to fly again and go back to the Swissair life,” she says.

Besides being motivated by her children, Prisca said she wanted to conquer the fear of flying that had plagued her since the accident.

She felt she should confront her fear head-on and that the sooner she did that, the better.

Flowers on the waves

Since the crash, Zimmermann has travelled to Halifax three times to visit the site of the crash.

She has taken her children to the crash site to throw flowers on the waves. She has scattered her husband’s ashes.

“Lighthouses are tombstones for me now. The plane crashed in front of the lighthouse in Peggy’s Cove.

When I arrived there with my children the first thing I saw was the water in the back and in front the lighthouse – it was like the grave was the water and the lighthouse was the tombstone. The place is so beautiful there – it couldn’t be a nicer grave.”

50th Birthday

Prisca was planning a party for her husband’s 50th birthday. But he died a day before.

His death re-opened an earlier wound for Prisca, the drowning death of their three-year-old son Phillip several years earlier. She says that her husband’s compassion was critical in supporting her through that tragedy.

“Urs was such a sensitive person, he had so much understanding for everyone … also as a pilot trainer for Swissair, he was so helpful to people when they had problems.

I think Urs would be happy to see how we are living. And in a way he is with us,” she says.

swissinfo, Karin Kamp

In compliance with the JTI standards

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here . Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR