Pilot on downed float plane identified as search continues for missing
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. -- Quebec pilot Gilles Morin, 61, was one of seven people aboard a float plane that crashed into a Labrador lake on Monday, killing at least three people on board.
Three bodies had been recovered and four people remained missing Wednesday after a full day of searching by military rescuers who scanned Mistastin Lake, where the tail of the plane and other debris were spotted early Tuesday.
The identities of the other passengers have not been made public, but the RCMP said all seven were men -- Morin from Quebec, two fishing guides from Newfoundland and Labrador and four passengers from the United States.
The RCMP took over search efforts from the Maritime Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre Wednesday, and an underwater recovery team was being sent to the site. The divers will be backed by RCMP air services, investigative officers and a ground search and rescue team from Nain, a town about 120 kilometres northeast of the crash site.
Jean Tremblay, president of the Quebec airline that owns the plane, confirmed Morin was piloting the de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver that crashed.
Tremblay described Morin as a kind man and an experienced, no-nonsense pilot who was treasured by friends and colleagues. "Everybody loved him," Tremblay said Wednesday.
Morin wasn't a pilot who took risks, Tremblay said, and given the good weather on Monday, he's at a loss to explain what went wrong in the air.
"Gilles never closed doors in bad weather, he won't take any chances. He wasn't a cowboy," Tremblay said. "He was a very safe pilot, he was very appreciated from all his colleagues."
Tremblay said he does not know who is missing and who has been confirmed dead, but he is not optimistic any survivors will be found, after a full day of searching by military aircraft Tuesday.
The wreckage was spotted in the water approximately one kilometre from the shore. Maj. Mark Gough with Maritime Forces Atlantic, which co-ordinated the rescue effort until Tuesday night, said any survivor would have had to swim a significant distance to reach land.
Morin has been an employee of Air Saguenay since 2011 and according to Tremblay, he has 20,000 hours of flying experience.
Tremblay said the aircraft had been inspected this spring and was far from being due for another inspection.
The plane had left Three Rivers Lodge on Crossroads Lake, east of Schefferville, Que., Monday morning for a fishing camp on Mistastin Lake, but it did not return as planned that evening. The RCMP said it is not known whether the plane crashed en route to the camp or during its return.
Robin Reeve, managing partner of the Three Rivers Lodge, declined comment on Wednesday, saying he was waiting for more detailed information. "We are making no statements at this point, because the information is not clear or anywhere close to complete," he said in a brief phone interview.
The lodge's website describes it as a "wilderness fly-fishing camp located in the Labrador bush" where guests are flown out to remote fishing spots as part of a weeklong package.
According to an online list of TSB reports, the crash is the fourth recorded incident involving an Air Saguenay-owned plane.
In July 2010, a DHC-2 Beaver crashed into a mountain near Lake Peribonka, Que. in poor weather, killing four of the six people aboard.
In August 2015, another DHC-2 Beaver struck a mountainside near Les Bergeronnes, Que., not long after taking off from Long Lake near Tadoussac, killing all seven people on board.
Last July, another DHC-2 Beaver was preparing to take off from Jules Lake with a pilot and three passengers when the pilot aborted takeoff. The plane struck trees, damaging, the aircraft, but no one was injured.