In all my life I’ve only seen one person die in front of my eyes. Even when my parents died, I was elsewhere, and although I could make it to the funeral, I wasn’t there in the hospital when either my mum or dad died.
Likewise at work : although fatalities did happen during my time at Iscor and British Steel / Corus / Tata Steel, it was always something that you heard of or read about, but not something you witnessed.
The one exception was when I was working for a 2-week stint as a summer student at a company where they stored and handled frozen fish in Ostend. At one stage we were going to defrost one of the freezers, and one person, Victor de Man, was going to shut off the cooling system, and then we were supposed to get the ice off the pipes using metal rods.
My cousin Frank and I were standing there waiting for Victor to do his part of the job when his wrench key fell to the floor. I thought he just let it slip and was about to pick it up, when i heard my cousin shout : “What’s happening now ?!?”. He had been looking up and had seen how Victor had stumbled backwards and collapsed.
What I saw was how Victor fell backwards, without uttering a sound, arms spread out like the wings of an airplane, and fell head first to the ground. I can still hear the sound when his head hit the concrete floor, like when someone squashes an empty can. Then he fell on his belly with a sound of a wet fish being thrown onto the counter. I knew for certain that I had just seen someone die right in front of my eyes.
Frank ran straight away for help, I followed him in a daze. When questioned I couldn’t say anything more that Victor had fallen. A co-worker had gone to see what happened, then came sprinting out calling for a doctor or an ambulance. When I took another glance, I saw him lie there, not moving an inch, with his head in a pool of blood. If I had had breakfast that morning I definitely would have thrown up.
I didn’t need to hear the verdict of the paramedics when they arrived a few moments later, because I knew for a fact that there was no hope.
It’s funny how certain memories stay with you for the rest of your life, even if you would have given money to forget about it. It’s still not hard to recall the vision in front of my eyes or the sound of that fatal crash. It’s not something you want to witness too many times.