Residents haul out plows, sleds to help post-crash rescue effort
Published Monday, November 19, 2012 2:41PM EST
Last Updated Monday, November 19, 2012 7:18PM EST
Local residents are being hailed as heroes after they offered their plows, Ski-Doos and sleds to help rescuers access a remote plane crash in Manitoba early Sunday.
Around 10 a.m., a Cessna 208 went down in thick brush shortly after taking off from the airport in Snow Lake, which is about 700 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
The pilot was killed, while seven passengers were injured. A military rescue team was unable to parachute down to the scene due to poor visibility, and emergency responders needed help accessing the crash site and getting survivors to safety.
After hearing of the call for help from his captain, Gary Balanyk, a mining construction worker, jumped into his bulldozer and drove to the scene. He helped clear three kilometres of dense bush, establishing a path for rescuers.
“I’ve never heard of anybody saying they’ve had anything this serious,” Balanyk said of the surprise call for help.
RCMP Cpl. Jason Schalla said he and a handful of local firefighters tried walking into the bush, calling out for survivors. As their search dragged on, word got out to local residents, who showed up by the dozens to help.
“It was a fantastic response from the community,” Schalla said. “People came together, people came with four-wheelers, snowmobiles. People came with toboggans they carried in.”
The seven survivors are all being treated for non-life-threatening injuries in hospital in Winnipeg, The Pas, Thompson and Flin Flon. The men, all of whom were listed in stable condition, worked for Dumas Mine Contracting and were headed to their homes out of the province.
A preliminary report from Transport Canada said the flight was operated by Gogal Air Services Ltd., which is the town’s air service.
The report said the plane crashed shortly after departing the Snow lake airport.
"A passenger who escaped the aircraft contacted 911 dispatch via cellphone to report the incident,” the report said.
Police have not released the names of anyone who was on board the plane. However, CTV Winnipeg identified the deceased pilot as Mark Gogal, whose family owns the airline.
Snow Lake Mayor Clarence Fisher said the tragedy hits close to home for the close-knit community of some 850 residents.
“We’ve lost a member of the community,” Fisher said. “He will be sadly missed.”
The Transportation Safety Board and Transport Canada are investigating. While the cause of the crash is not yet known, the TSB said the plane appeared to have been operating normally. The Cessna 208 was found intact, but badly damaged.
“We’ll remove some of the wreckage to take back to our shop and then on to our lab in Gatineau for analysis,” said TSB spokesperson Ross Peden.
A final report on the accident could take up to a year to complete.
With a report from CTV Winnipeg’s Rajeev Dhir and files from The Canadian Press