TORONTO — Darcy Belanger boarded an Ethiopian Airlines flight focused on his life's mission: Save the Arctic. End climate change.
Flight 302 crashed shortly after it took off from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 10, killing the 46-year-old Edmonton native and 156 others on board. He'd never complete his journey to the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, or garner support for the cause he dedicated himself to everyday — the not-for-profit organization Parvati.org and its mandate to establish a marine Arctic peace park through an international treaty.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, his Parvati.org colleagues are spreading this message for him, repeating like a mantra, "It's what Darcy would have wanted."
"He's the emblem of what one person can do when they have the courage and commitment to the greater good of all," said Parvati Devi, director of Parvati.org. She, Belanger and a few others founded it about a decade ago. He was the brother she never had, she said.
"Darcy was on that flight as a messenger for an underreported humanitarian (climate change) crisis that 1,000 children die of everyday," Devi told HuffPost. Climate change is causing droughts and water shortages, heat waves, floods, and other extreme weather events that disproportionately affect children worldwide, according to UNICEF.
Belanger worked as an executive at a construction company and had recently relocated to Denver, Colorado with his wife, Amie. When he wasn't working, he was doing yoga, meditating and dedicating his can-do attitude to Parvati.org and the marine park.
I now get the irony of @darcybelanger working at @PCLConstruction a company that builds great buildings because you laid down the beautiful foundation for people to experience heaven here on Earth. Thank you for championing #SignMAPS We will see it through @ParvatiOfficial— Rishi Deva (@KupidsPlay) March 14, 2019
"We're talking about creating the world's largest protected area in history, and there's that inner chatter that says, 'Who am I to do that?'" said Rishi Deva, also a founding member, and Devi's husband.
When faced with a seemingly-insurmountable challenge, "Darcy would always just be like 'Yes.' Because of that something would shift and everything became possible," Deva said.
On behalf of Parvati.org, Belanger coordinated 300 volunteers, encouraged government officials to sign the Arctic Ocean treaty, including those from Cook Islands and Samoa, ran campaigns and attended every UN Climate Change Conference since 2015.
Last week, he flew from Denver to Washington D.C. before connecting to the flight to Addis Ababa, and then Nairobi. He was planning to meet for the first time African volunteers who'd been pressing their governments in Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya to sign the treaty. During his layover in Washington, Belanger posted a video.
"I'll check in again. I don't know where I'll be. Maybe Ethiopia, maybe my final destination, Kenya, but I will keep you posted on the journey. Have a great day, bye," He said, smiling in the video.
He sat beside John Hagen on the way to Addis Ababa, and spoke about his life, of his mission. "At the end of our flight we shook hands and wished each other well," Hagen said in a statement. "The last time I saw him, he was walking down the concourse in Terminal 2, clearly happy and excited to be on his way to Nairobi."
When Belanger didn't arrive in the Nairobi airport to meet the African delegates, they called Devi, concerned. Soon, they realized he was on the flight that had crashed.
"It was a very harrowing Sunday morning, and it's been harrowing ever since," Devi said. "We've been at the frontlines to truly carry forward the legacy he left. It's almost like we're downloading elements of his personality — courage, compassion, interconnection, understanding we are all one Earth family."
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An outpouring of support from environmentalists has followed his death.
"Darcy was exactly the kind of compassionate leader our movement needs and cannot afford to lose," said Climate Action Network Canada Executive Director Catherine Abreu in a statement.
One of the African delegates he was going to meet, Omesa Samwel Mokaya from Nigeria, said in a statement, "He inspired all our actions. Now it's our turn to honor him. To do what he could have wanted us to do if he was here. For humanity, for the planet and for Darcy. I urge everyone to pick the motivation, dust yourself off, put yourself together and do all you can to see that this noble course is achieved."
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