Only this time her visit was a little more official.
Joined by local politicians, people involved with the rescue effort and other supporters, Zimova unveiled a memorial plaque at the crash site just off of Circular Road on June 27.
The plaque is a memorial to all those who lost their lives in the crash, it honours those who survived and celebrates the people who helped with the rescue effort.
The flight crashed in Gander nearly 50 years ago shortly after taking off
from Gander International Airport, leaving 35 dead.
Zimova said she was moved by the efforts of all who made the memorial possible and said she is thankful to have the crash commemorated.
“It warms my heart because it shows that people care,” said Zimova, now in her 80s. “It’s something that happened to people from another country but everyone helped us as if we were their own.”
The memorial plaque was the result of a collective effort, which saw the Gander Airport Historical Society purchase the plaque, Gander International Airport Authority prepare the site and Parks Canada install the plaque on a boulder. The large rock holds a special meaning as it was at the end of the runway from which Czechoslovakian Airlines Flight 523 began its final flight.
Zimova said she hopes the memorial will help people recognize the turmoil of that tragic day, but also to appreciate the efforts of those involved with the recovery and rescue mission.
“I’m overwhelmed because it’s just so beautiful,” she said. “It exceeded my expectations and the monument is beautiful. I’m very appreciative of how much work went into it and I’m very grateful that these people did this.”
In her 30s at the time of the crash, Zimova said the memories of that day are still as vivid as ever.
“I was surprised to be alive, and I feel very lucky to stand here today,” she told The Beacon last September. “I think about my colleagues who did not survive when I look out over there.”
Those colleagues were again on her mind during the ceremony this past weekend.
“I travelled in a group of five people from the same institution at the academy of sciences and three of them died here, so for me, it was important that my colleagues were remembered,” she said.
Ambassadors to Canada from Czech Republic and Slovak Republic sent letters of remembrance to be read at the ceremony, an act that Zimova was thankful for.
Historical society president Jack Pinsent was an air traffic controller at the time of the crash, said he’s also thankful to everyone who helped make the memorial plaque happen.
“It was total professionalism right from the first step to the final one today,” said Pinsent. “There are memorials around that recognize the other two major crashes we had here, but there was nothing to mark the Czech crash. We wanted people in the community and new people coming to Gander to know about this and I’m quite happy that we pulled this off. It’s a good feeling.”
For Zimova, establishing a memorial at the crash site helps to bring the life-altering event full-circle.
“It’s important because the people who died there will be remembered and the people who helped us will be remembered because it was incredible work that they done,” she said. “I was amazed at how much people from another country would do to help us.”