By Jennifer Thurbide
Transportation officials say it will be months before a conclusive report is made available regarding the plane crash that killed four people last week outside of North Spirit Lake First Nation. Speaking to media last week, Transportation Safety Board Regional Operations Manager Peter Hildebrand said from Winnipeg it will take some time to produce a report on exactly what happened.
Describing the scale of the investigation Hildebrand said “We are gathering information to see whether the airplane was functional at the time. We are looking for the structure, the engine propellers, the controls, the systems (any kind of de-icing systems), electrical, those sorts of things to see if we can tell whether they were working at the time. Then we are going to look at the flight path to see was the airplane in controlled flight or did it indicate a loss of control, where is it located – can we find out what the airplane was doing from witnesses, flying in for the approach, was it doing an overshoot, circling or what have you.” Over the coming weeks investigators will also review maintenance records, policies and procedures and interview witnesses and next of kin.
Releasing “factual information” on the crash over the weekend the Transportation Safety Board said the investigative team found indications the landing gear was down and flaps were partially extended. Heavy damage was sustained in the fuselage and the right wing area and the wreakage path is approximately 106 metres long. The organization noted no conclusions have been made stating “Analysis of the accident, along with the Findings of the Board will become available when the final report is released.”
On Tuesday, January 10th a Piper PA13 Navajo flown by Keystone Air departed Winnipeg at 7:15 a.m. with one pilot and four passengers destined for North Spirit Lake First Nation. On board were three representatives from Aboriginal Strategies Inc. (ASI) based out of Winnipeg and a former North Spirit Lake resident. The flight crashed on a lake a half mile from the community killing four and injuring one. The OPP reported last week members of the North West Region along with Nishnawbe-Aski Police Services attended the crash site to assist the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in search and rescue efforts and secured the scene until TSB investigators could reach the site.
Three of the deceased were identified last Wednesday morning as ASI President and Carmen, Manitoba resident 62 year old Ben van Hoek, Accountant Colette Eisinger who was 39 years old and from Winnipeg and former North Spirit Lake resident Martha Campbell was 38 years old and was residing in Winnipeg also. On January 12th Keystone Air identified the pilot as 41 year old Fariborz Abasabady. The loan survivor 36 year old Brian Shead was taken to Winnipeg’s Health Science Centre to be treated for his injuries.
On January 11th ASI spokesperson Lyndon Olfert put out a statement on behalf of the board, management and staff of the company noting his colleagues were “deeply feeling the loss of part of our family”.
“We grieve together with their families and extend our deepest condolences,” continued Olfert. “Our sympathies also extend to the family of Martha Campbell and we extend our gratitude to the many North Spirit Lake community members that assisted with the rescue efforts and with communications with our office during this stressful time. Our condolences also to the family of the pilot and to the Keystone Air staff. We pray for a speedy recovery for our co‐worker, Brian Shead, the only survivor of the crash.”
Messages of support for the community and for those lost were numerous last week as Nishnawbe-Aski Nation Grand Chief Stand Beardy said last Tuesday morning: “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the pilot, passengers and all the members of North Spirit Lake First Nation who are dealing with this sudden and very terrible tragedy. While we are not yet aware ….of the details surrounding this tragic event, it is yet another unfortunate reminder of the perils faced by many First Nations and other travelers who depend on air transportation as their lifeline between northern and remote communities and major urban centres.”
North Spirit Lake is community of around 400 people located 175 kilometres north of Red Lake.