Nine years later, Jeffrey Johnson’s passing is still felt by his parents

Jeffrey Johnson was fresh out of high school in Newfoundland and Labrador when he left his hometown, Trouty (population 60) on the Bonavista Peninsula, in 2007. Like many others in the province, he went west to work in Alberta’s then-booming energy industry.

Strapping and strong, Jeffrey stood 6’3” and weighed 250 pounds. He radiated energy and was always looking for way to burn it off. He was quickly hired as a roughneck.

“He fit right in out there,” says Jeffrey’s father Glenn Johnson. “He was using his strength and he was planning to work for a year and come home to take a welding course so he could work offshore.”

Jeffrey returned home that year for Christmas but less than three months later, on his third shift as a derrickhand, he was killed on the job on a rig north of Provost, Alberta. He was 18 years old, one of 13 people who died in province’s energy sector that year.

Jeffrey Johnson, Derrickhand,

Jeffrey Johnson. Loving son, brother, friend and derrickhand killed on the job in March 2008.

Glenn Johnson describes the incident that claimed his son as “a fluke accident.”

According to an occupational fatalities report, at the time of the incident, a single length of tubing was disconnected from the tubing string. The disconnected tubing was dropped into the tubing catcher. The power tong assembly was lowered creating a tubing string stump approximately 0.90 meters long. When Jeffrey lifted the tubing with the transfer elevator, the tubing contacted the tubing string stump and created a sudden unexpected whip like motion striking him on the back of his head.

Jeffrey was transported to the Provost Hospital and pronounced dead on arrival at 12:41 p.m.

Shortly after, and thousands of kilometers to the east, an RCMP officer delivered the news of Jeffrey’s death to Glenn and his wife Coreine. They went numb with shock and solemnly went about the sorrowful task of burying their second-born son. They went through the motions of a funeral and the paying of respects from family, friends and co-workers (17 of Jeffrey’s workmates flew out for the services).

And then the couple withdrew.

“We stopped going out and stopped seeing people. We became reclusive. My mother lived across the street from us, and she would bring what we needed,” says Glenn. “It came to the point that we thought—what would Jeffrey want us to do? And we came to the conclusion that Jeffrey would want us to move on. We had to pick up the pieces.”

The Johnsons contacted the Threads of Life and its staff and volunteers helped them grieve, heal and celebrate Jeffrey’s life.

Glenn also began to push industry and government for answers. Jeffrey’s death may have been a fluke, but Glenn wanted to make sure such an incident never happened again to another worker and their family. In addition to grieving, it would take almost two years for a provincial government investigation to find there was no cause for a lawsuit against the companies involved.

Glenn found his answers, but remains somewhat unsettled.

“I still to this day say that Jeffrey was fresh out of high school,” he says. “I will never say he was not qualified, but I don’t believe he was trained enough to be working on such equipment.”

Nine years later, Jeffrey’s loss is still an ache in the hearts of his parents, family and friends.

“It’s a daily thing to think about Jeffrey,” Glenn says.

On April 28, Glenn and Coreine will attend their ninth consecutive Day of Mourning event. It’s one of the many ways they keep their son’s memory alive.

Additional resources: