Canadian humanitarian missing after small plane crash in the Dominican Republic
Homes lay in ruins after the passing of Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. (AP / Dieu Nalio Chery)
Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, October 19, 2016 3:40PM EDT
A Canadian humanitarian worker is among three people missing after a small plane crashed off the north coast of the Dominican Republic.
Humanitarian organization Live Different, which is based in Hamilton, says long-time employee Benjamin Cole Brown was on board the aircraft with two Americans at the time of the crash.
The three were returning from Haiti where they had delivered donations and other aid to help local residents rebuild from a recent hurricane.
Brown, 36, was managing programs in the Dominican Republic and had lived abroad for nearly a decade.
Live Different spokeswoman Jennifer Digiandomenico says organization staff are at the crash site awaiting word on the search for survivors.
She says employees are holding out hope that the man they referred to simply as Cole is still alive.
"We love Cole so much," she said in a telephone interview. "He is a big part of the Live Different family, which extends all across Canada and the Dominican Republic and Haiti. We have received so many phone calls and emails from people in all three countries who are still praying and thinking of Cole."
Digiandomenico said Brown boarded the personal plane with Chuck and Candy Ritzen, an American couple also involved in the humanitarian aid field, on Monday night as the three prepared to return to the Dominican Republic.
The plane, she said, was Chuck Ritzen's personal aircraft that was frequently used for travel between the two countries, which share an island.
A spokesman for Global Affairs Canada said they were informed that a Canadian citizen was missing off the coast of the Dominican Republic.
"Debris from a small aircraft has been recovered near Puerto Plata and consular officials at the Consulate of Canada in Puerto Plata Consular are in contact with local authorities to gather additional information," Austin Jean wrote in an email to The Canadian Press.
He said consular officials are providing assistance to the family.
A statement from the Dominican civil aviation authority says the plane took off from Port-au-Prince on Monday and was headed to the coastal town of Puerto Plata. The Dominican air force had located wreckage from the plane.
The single-engine Lake LA-250 apparently lost contact with the control tower shortly after 6 p.m. when it was about six kilometres from the town.
Digiandomenico confirmed that investigators had recovered some debris from the aircraft and said helicopters were currently flying over the area searching for the passengers.
She said Brown, who had worked for Live Different for the past 13 years, grew up near Hamilton and went to high school in the area. He spent some time working in construction and seemed a natural fit for Live Different as it undertook to start building family homes in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, she said.
Brown spent the past 10 years living at various international sites and eventually rose through the ranks to become the manager of operations in the two islands, she said.
At all times, Digiandomenico said he was driven by his passion for social justice.
"His life was his work," she said. "He's a super influential person. He's an amazing speaker."
In his spare time, she said Brown occupied himself with his hobbies: music and photography.
According to his personal website, Brown used his photography skills to document lives in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that rocked Haiti in 2010. His photos have been featured on the Huffington Post, the New York Times and numerous other websites and publications.