No search, no rescue, for Labrador's Burton Winter

Locals expect more from the military, who says poor weather conditions kept their helicopters grounded

As Burton Winters took his last breaths of frigid Atlantic air, marooned on an ice sheet off the Labrador coast, he must have scanned the sky for some sign that help might come. It didn’t. And the 14-year-old boy, a Junior Canadian Ranger from Makkovik, Labrador, froze to death in the snow.

Winters had been reported missing on Jan. 29, when he failed to return home on his snowmobile after dropping his cousin at their grandmother’s house. It was fully 48 hours before the Canadian Forces dispatched a helicopter. Three days later, his body was found; Winters had managed to trudge 19 km through the shifting ice and snow before finally collapsing.

The military claims poor weather in Makkovik kept them from sending a helicopter, but the response has been questioned by Winters’s family, local politicians and the public. Even if weather had allowed it, neither of the two helicopters stationed in Goose Bay, Labrador, could have made the flight due to maintenance issues, the Department of National Defence acknowledged last week. And private helicopters were able to launch a search, despite the weather.

Locals complain search and rescue response times have grown unacceptable. National Defence has been scaling back operations in the province, and plans to shutter the St. John’s Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre, one of two Maritime search and rescue bases. “Our lives are just as important as anywhere else,” says Randy Edmunds, a member of the house of assembly, representing Makkovik.“It’s just overwhelming and disgusting.”

On Feb. 9, vigils and protests calling for better search and response services were held in Makkovik and St. John’s. “This was obviously a mistake,” Winters’s stepmother Natalie Jacque said. “They didn’t come when we called.”

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