Wednesday, January 11, 2012

C-GOSU, Piper Navajo Chieftain, PA-31-350

Piper Navajo C-GOSU from Keystone Air Services;which crashed Tuesday morning in northwestern Ontario.
Photo Credit: , Global News

Residents of a Northern Ontario reserve where a plane crashed into a lake Tuesday frantically tried to douse the flaming wreckage with snow but couldn’t save four of the people trapped inside.

Darcy Keesick of North Spirit Lake First Nation was one of the people who rushed to the crash site. He said it happened during a blinding snowstorm.

“You couldn’t see across the lake,” he said.

As word spread about what happened, Keesick was one of many who fought through deep snow on foot to get to the scene to help.

People tried to put the flames out with snow while others gouged a hole in the lake to try to pump water onto the burning plane, he said.

“It wouldn’t go out,” he said. “They couldn’t do it anymore because the snow was starting to get saturated with fuel.”

One person survived and was being treated on the reserve.

Tracy Shead was in shock when she heard about the crash. Her husband, Brian Shead, 36, works for Aboriginal Strategies Inc., an administrative service for First Nations based in Winnipeg.

She told CTV Winnipeg that at first, it was believed he had died. But then Shead got the news that her husband was the lone survivor. She said she was told he has a fractured face and ankle, and a doctor with him told her his vital signs were good and he was awake.

“Relieved, very, very relieved and I can’t wait to see him,” Shead said.

Tuesday’s crash was the worst in nine years in Northwestern Ontario.

In 2003, a Wasaya Airways pilot and seven residents of Summer Beaver First Nation, including most of the community’s band council, were killed when a Cessna Grand Caravan C208 crashed 10 kilometres northwest of the community.

Tuesday’s crash shook North Spirit Lake, a community of about 400 people, 400 km north of Dryden.

Band Coun. Maggie Kakegamic said the Keystone Air Service plane, flying in from Winnipeg, was carrying five people, including a band worker based in the Manitoba capital.

Another band worker, Martha Campbell, was among the dead, said Kakegamic.

People in the area heard the plane circling and then a “putt-putt” sound before the crash, she said. Residents have never experienced such a tragedy before, she added.

“Everybody is in shock right now,” Kakegamic said from the band officer where the phone was ringing constantly. “Everybody is just running around crying because they know those people.”

The lone survivor is a friend of hers.

“I went and saw him. He said, ‘I’ll be OK.’ I hope he is. He’s one of our workers. They’re monitoring him right now.”

The Transportation Safety Board said the plane crashed at around 10 a.m. local time. Investigators were on their way, but didn’t expect to arrive until this morning.

Peter Hildebrand, the board’s manager of regional operations, said investigators hadn’t had a chance to talk to the survivor and weren’t sure where he would be sent for further treatment.

It wasn’t clear what caused the crash, Hildebrand said.

The plane was not equipped with a cockpit voice recorder or flight data recorder. It was landing at an airport where there is no control tower and there wasn’t any radio contact with the plane after it left Winnipeg.

“We don’t know, because of the limitations of communication, whether it was on approach or overshoot at the time, or what it’s situation was,” Hildebrand said.

George Riopka, spokesman for Keystone Air Service, said details were sketchy other than the plane hit the ice north of the airport. It was too soon to know whether the crash was caused by mechanical failure, he said.
Condolences poured in from neighbouring reserves.

Grand Chief Stan Beardy, head of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, said thoughts and prayers were going out to all who were grappling with “this sudden and very terrible tragedy.”

“While we are not yet aware of the identity of the victims, or the details surrounding this tragic event, it is yet another unfortunate reminder of the perils faced by many First Nations and other travellers who depend on air transportation as their lifeline between Northern and remote communities and major urban centres,” he said in a statement.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo also offered condolences to the families and communities of those killed in the crash.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the leadership and citizens of North Spirit Lake First Nation, as well as our brothers and sisters across Treaty 9 and Treaty 5 territory impacted by this tragedy.”

— With files from The Chronicle-Journal

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