Military to provide aircraft support to RCMP search for B.C. homicide suspects
The Canadian Armed Forces will lend air support to the days-long manhunt in northern Manitoba for two young men suspected of three homicides in British Columbia.
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The Department of National Defence said the CAF will provide a Royal Canadian Air Force search and rescue CC-130H Hercules aircraft from Winnipeg to aid in the ongoing search for Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, in the remote wilderness outside of Gillam, Man. after they received a request from the commissioner of the RCMP.
The crew will comprise of two pilots, an air combat systems officers, a flight engineer, a loadmaster, and two search and rescue technicians. There will also be a RCMP officer on board the aircraft to direct the search.
“The Canadian Armed Forces are always prepared to assist other governmental organizations and the search effort around Gillam, Manitoba is another example of this cooperation,” the department said in an emailed statement to CTV News on Saturday.
As for where the plane will by flying, the spokesperson said the area will be determined by RCMP.
The department said the CAF plans to aid the RCMP “until they indicate that our assistance is no longer required.”
The statement added that search and rescue coverage for the region would not be affected by the use of the Hercules aircraft in the manhunt.
CTV News Winnipeg’s Jeff Keele said the plane landed just after noon on Saturday at the Gillam airport. He reported that RCMP officers were on hand to greet the military personnel arriving on the aircraft.
On Saturday morning, CTV News’ Todd Battis reported the weather in Gillam had improved from the day before. He said the cloud cover had dissipated somewhat, making it more favourable for an aerial search above the region’s dense bush.
“It’s better searching weather,” he said. “That’ll be a big difference for the crews here.”
Battis also said the introduction of Canadian military aircraft may also be an indication the search area for the suspects is expanding.
“We may not necessarily see those aircraft around Gillam where we are, they may be working a larger perimeter,” he said.
That would be in line with the RCMP’s Friday announcement that McLeod and Schmegelsky may have already left the Gillam area thanks to someone who may have “inadvertently” helped them flee.
“It is possible that someone may not have been aware of who they were providing assistance to, and may now be hesitant to come forward,” Cpl. Julie Courchaine said in a press conference.
Heavily armed police officers from across the country have been scouring the small community of 1,200 people and the surrounding area for the past week after a burned-out SUV used by the suspects was uncovered near the town on Monday.
The military aircraft will enhance an already exhaustive search involving officers with specialized wilderness training, a K9 unit, a helicopter, an RCMP tactical assault vehicle (TAV), and crisis negotiation team. Police have also set up vehicle checkpoints on the only road in and out of the remote town.
On Friday, RCMP said officers would be going door-to-door in Gillam and nearby Fox Lake Cree Nation over the weekend, asking residents if they’d seen or heard anything. One local told CTV News that “life hasn’t been the same,” and that “people are scared, on edge.”
Billy Beardy, the man who initially found the suspects’ burned out SUV, said Saturday that there was “nobody on the streets."
“And that’s rare,” he told CTV News, “cause usually kids are playing all over the place.”
RCMP said they have already received more than 120 tips concerning the case.
Investigators have repeatedly urged the public to come forward with any tips regarding the fugitives’ past or present whereabouts. Anyone who spots the pair has been asked not to intervene and to call police immediately.
McLeod and Schmegelsky set off a Canada-wide manhunt on Monday after RCMP named them as suspects in the shooting deaths of Australian Lucas Fowler, 23, and his American girlfriend Chynna Deese, 24, whose bodies were found on the side of the Alaska Highway in northern B.C. on July 15.
The childhood friends from Port Alberni on Vancouver Island have also been charged with second-degree murder in the death of 64-year-old Leonard Dyck, a sessional lecturer at the University of British Columbia.
Dyck’s body was discovered four days after Fowler and Deese’s at a highway pullout some 470 kilometres southwest from where the couple was killed.
McLeod and Schmegelsky were last seen on Monday in the Gillam area.