SNOW LAKE, Man. – Rescue crews on snowmobiles had to beat a path through thick bush in northern Manitoba on Sunday to reach the survivors of one of two fatal plane crashes which took place on the Prairies over the weekend.
Low cloud cover meant a rescue helicopter was unable to reach seven people who were injured after a plane enroute to Winnipeg from Snow Lake, Man., went down just after 10 a.m. local time on Sunday.
The crash which killed one person came after a separate aircraft went down in northern Alberta on Saturday evening, killing the 52-year-old pilot, who was the plane’s sole occupant.
In Sunday’s incident, authorities said a Cessna 208 Caravan went down in a remote area about 10 kilometres from the town of Snow Lake, Man., which is some 700 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
Police said the pilot, a 40-year-old man from Snow Lake, was killed and that seven others were injured, some seriously.
RCMP spokeswoman Sgt. Line Karpish said a passenger on the plane used a cellphone to call 911 and alert authorities about the crash.
A Canadian Forces Hercules helicopter was dispatched and rescuers on board had parachutes they could use to reach the survivors, but Karpish said crews weren’t able to jump because the cloud ceiling was so low.
That meant the RCMP, volunteer firefighters, wildlife officers and other locals had to use snowmobiles to reach the scene.
“Just to get to the plane crash, basically it took over an hour and a half to cover the six miles,” said Karpish, adding that the area is covered in thick bush.
“I’m told that they ended up having to push a trail. They did end up accessing (the site) using snowmobiles and rescue sleighs to get to them safety.”
The injured were brought to a small health centre in Snow Lake, but poor visibility at the time meant that medevac flights that would have carried them to larger hospitals couldn’t land.
Clarence Fisher, the mayor of Snow Lake, said Sunday afternoon that while the sky appeared to be clearing, fast-approaching darkness would have likely made it difficult for planes to land.
A decision was made to transport the injured by ground ambulance to Flin Flon, The Pas, or Thompson, which were all between two and three hours away.
“We have a local hospital here but people with serious injuries would need to be medevaced out,” Fisher said.
There’s been no word on the conditions of the injured.
Snow Lake, a mining community with gold, zinc and copper deposits in the vicinity, has a population of just over 800.
Karpish said many people in the community chipped in to help with the rescue.
“In the north, it’s not unusual when something happens like this, it hits home very closely,” Karpish said. “At the end of the day everybody just joins in and helps out and gets these people to safety.”
Meanwhile, authorities said in Saturday’s crash in nothern Alberta, the single-engine turboprop entered an area between La Crete and High Level where visibility was reduced to less that 100 metres due to low cloud cover and heavy fog.
RCMP said an emergency beacon was detected by the Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Trenton, Ont., which notified police.
Authorities found the plane a few kilometres northeast of the La Crete airport, about 670 kilometres north of Edmonton.
The Transportation Safety Board will be investigating both crashes.
Board spokesman Chris Krepski said that the plane that crashed near Snow Lake went down not long after taking off from the community. Investigators were on their way to the community and he said more information wouldn’t be available until Monday.
Fisher said the plane was operated by a local charter company, Gogal Air Service. He said he wasn’t able to provide any details about who was on board.