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Cpl. James Arnal shot this video of a massive twister near Elie, Man. He was killed in Afghanistan the following year.

UNSEEN tornado footage from a fallen soldier sheds new light

Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Thursday, June 22, 2017, 12:41 PM - On July 18 every year, Wendy Hayward takes time to remember and reflect.

On that day in 2008, her son, Corporal James "Jim" Arnal, born in Kelvington, Sask., was out on foot patrol when he was killed by an explosive device, becoming the 88th Canadian soldier to die during the Afghanistan mission. He was 25.

As she always does when the anniversary of her son's death comes around, Hayward took the day to go through her memories of her son, but this time her search through his effects turned up something very unexpected: Video footage of Arnal and his friends, driving their car past an immense tornado.

She'd seen it once before, when he'd first shown it to her in June 2007, but not since, and it brought back a lot of memories.

"For some reason, I decided to pop that one in," she said. "It was just the timing."

The date, she says, was June 22, 2007, and it was shot near the community of Elie, Man. People on the Prairies remember that name. It was the site of a monster tornado that was later rated Canada's first F5 tornado.

Packing winds gusting from 420 - 512 km/h, it touched down at 6:25 p.m. near the Trans-Canada Highway near Elie, not far from Winnipeg, and stayed on the ground for 35 minutes. Its intense winds stripped the bark off trees, snapped utility poles clean in half, and carried a house off its foundations for several metres.

The tornado moved slowly, most people were away attending a ceremony at the high school, and those that weren't were quick to take shelter, so the death toll from the most powerful tornado ever recorded in Canada was exactly zero.

This isn't at all the only footage of the twister, but it's remarkable that Hayward should unearth video of Canada's most powerful tornado just on the anniversary of her son's death.

"Even from a distance you can hear it, feel the power ... and they were right beneath it," said Hayward, who was encouraged by friends to send it in to The Weather Network after she posted it on Facebook.

Cpl. Arnal encountered the tornado as he was passing by on the way to a camping trip. The three other men in the car were also Canadian soldiers, who'd bonded during their previous tour in Afghanistan, Arnal's first.

Of course, no one expected to run into a monster like that on such a trip, but Hayward seemed to think it was fitting. Her son, she said, was a thrill-seeker, who encouraged others to share whatever adventure he was embarking on. He celebrated his friends' successes, Hayward says, but even if they didn't succeed, he'd celebrate the fact they'd tried.

Always keen on the military - his father and grandfather were also members - he enlisted in 2004 and was on his second tour in 2008, when he was killed. Hayward says the young corporal planned to go back for a third in 2009.

"Jim was just so proud to be Canadian, but then prouder still to be a Canadian soldier," Hayward said. "It was everything to him, he was very proud to be part of something greater than himself."

Hayward says you don't heal from the death of a child, but you learn how to cope. In her case, she herself followed in Arnal's footprints, going to Afghanistan as a civilian worker for six months, working at the airfield in Kandahar.

Although still grieving, she said being around her son's comrades was life-giving.

"That was six months where I hardly ever cried, because I saw Jim in the eyes of every one of them, right in the heart of what he was so proud of and what he lived for and knew he was going to be a part of when he was growing up," she said.

Editor's Note: This story was originally published on July 20, 2014, as part of the anniversary of the Elie, MB, tornado coverage. All photos courtesy Wendy Hayward.

Must see: Tornado touches down in Birmingham, Alabama.

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