Montreal family suffers double tragedy after father dies in Haiti plane crash, son in ferris wheel accident

·4 min read
Joey Valcin, Gamaniel Valcin's surviving son, is asking Ottawa to help repatriate his father's body.  (Charles Contant/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Joey Valcin, Gamaniel Valcin's surviving son, is asking Ottawa to help repatriate his father's body. (Charles Contant/Radio-Canada - image credit)

A Montreal family is reeling from a double tragedy, with this week's death of a man in a small plane crash near the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, just months after the man's son died in a work-related ferris wheel accident in late December.

The death of Gamaniel Valcin, 56, was confirmed to CBC News by his surviving son, Joey Valcin, Thursday morning.

Just a week ago, Joey posed for photographs with his father and mother, in the auditorium of Henri-Bourassa high school in Montréal-Nord. They were there to accept a posthumous award from the National Assembly on behalf of his brother, Riley Jonathan Valcin, 22, who died while working on the ferris wheel at Montreal's Old Port on Christmas Day.

On Thursday, Joey stoically faced the cameras once again, in the very same auditorium. He told reporters about the last time he saw his father — when he dropped him off at Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport Wednesday morning.

"I gave my father a hug. I told him that I love him and that I will see him again, and he said the same," he said.

Gamaniel Valcin was one of five people aboard the plane that had been headed for the southern coastal city of Jacmel Wednesday when the pilot tried to land in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Carrefour, hitting a truck transporting soda bottles.

AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph
AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph

When his son learned of the plane crash that evening, he tried to call his father's cell phone. To his surprise, a Haitian police commissioner answered and told him that his father had died in the accident.

"After I heard the news, I sat down for an hour at my house. Even though I was strong-willed, my body couldn't move an inch," said the young man.

A local police commissioner, Pierre Belamy Samedi, confirmed five people died in the crash. It is not known if anyone on the plane survived or if any people on the ground were killed or injured.

Joey Valcin is now asking Ottawa for help to repatriate his father's body, citing the dangerous situation in Haiti that prevents him from going there himself.

'A man of the people'

Quebec Liberal MNA Paule Robitaille said Joey called her to inform her of the crash late Wednesday night.

"It's a horrible tragedy for the family. It's also a horrible tragedy for the riding," said the MNA for Bourassa-Sauvé, who presented the posthumous medal awarded to Riley Jonathan to the Valcin family last week.

Joey described his father first and foremost as "a man of the people." A pastor, taxi driver and constant helper of Haitian citizens and migrants in Montreal, Gamaniel Valcin dedicated his life to supporting those that relied on him, his son said.

"I want people to remember my father for the great man he was: the generous, loving, compassionate, strong-willed man he was," said Joey.

"He always put others before himself, just like my brother."

Robitaille said she will work with her riding and the federal government to help repatriate Valcin's body.

Frantz Benjamin, the Haitian-born Liberal MNA who represents the Montreal riding of Viau, said the family and the community Valcin served deserve at least that much.

Benjamin became acquainted with Valcin after Riley Jonathan's death. He described him as a very active member in his church and as always willing to help others.

"All the Haitian community are in pain," he said.

In a tweet, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante extended her sympathies to the loved ones and families of Valcin and all the victims of the crash.

Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry also tweeted that he was saddened by the crash and offered his sympathies to the relatives of those who died.

Haiti's National Civil Aviation Office identified the plane as a Cessna 207, but no further details about what led to the accident have been released.

Reflecting on the loss of his father and brother within a few short months, Joey said he is grateful that he got to spend precious last moments with both of them before they died. He said on Christmas morning, he and his brother had shared heartfelt memories, reminiscing about their childhood.

"Since my brother's death, I've been trying to prepare my family to the worst possible event," said Joey.

In the last text Joey sent his father, he told him if death came, to embrace it, not to look back, and he told him that he loved him.

"I hope my father in his last moments remembered the words that I shared with him."

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