GRAND MANAN, N.B. – Federal investigators arrived Sunday on the scene of a plane crash that took the lives of two people and say the cause of the crash remains a mystery.
A paramedic and a pilot died early Saturday when a chartered plane that airlifts people from Grand Manan island to hospitals on the New Brunswick mainland crashed near the island’s airport runway.
Ambulance New Brunswick said the crash occurred at about 5 a.m. as the Atlantic Charters aircraft returned to the island off the province’s southwest coast after flying a patient to the Saint John Regional Hospital.
On Sunday, the company identified the pilot who died as the firm’s owner Klaus Sonnenberg.
Ambulance New Brunswick confirmed Saturday that paramedic William Mallock, of Grand Manan, also died in the crash.
Another pilot and a nurse who were on board were being treated for injuries at the Saint John Regional Hospital. The nurse was released from hospital Sunday afternoon.
The Transportation Safety Board spent Saturday interviewing the survivors of the crash, and on Sunday arrived to assess the scene.
Officials say there was no mayday call and the type of plane that crashed rarely carries flight recorders.
Doug McEwen is the investigator in charge, and says the plane was “intact when it touched down.”
“All major components are accounted for,” McEwen said.
McEwen and another investigator will continue documenting the flight and engine control continuity.
He says it could take over a year to complete the investigation.
The island of 2,500 is in a state of shock and disbelief as they mourn the loss of their own.
William ‘Billy’ Mallock was a 20-year veteran paramedic, one of the first to live on the island.
“He was a paramedic who went above and beyond the call,” said Dennis Greene, mayor of the village of Grand Manan. “He would visit the elderly in their homes and could make them feel comfortable without going to the hospital.”
Dale Parker, the assistant fire chief in Grand Manan, said it was difficult for first responders who arrived at the crash scene to witness the injuries of their fellow emergency workers.
“It’s very tough,” he said in a telephone interview.
“It’s awful to rescue the rescuer … This touches our rescue team. We’re a tight family when it comes to the ambulance, the fire department and the hospital.”
Klaus Sonnenberg was described as a widely admired figure on the island who cared deeply about his job transporting people to hospital for treatments.
He had been flying for about 45 years, and was known as an “aviation pioneer and legend” credited for saving many lives on the island.
“Klaus was a very good pilot. He knew his stuff, there’s a number of people who can basically count the blessings of having Klaus around because they got off this island safely,” said MLA Rick Doucet. “There’s a number of people who wouldn’t be walking today if it weren’t for Klaus.”
“I think a lot of people are puzzled at what happened.”
Sonnenberg and Mallock are the third and fourth islanders who’ve died in accidents in recent weeks.
Mayor Dennis Greene said he was assured by Premier David Alward ambulance services wouldn’t be interrupted by the tragedy.
“I was assured by him that they will make sure that we’ll be covered with an ambulance service,” Greene said. “Mr. Alward used Atlantic Charter quite a bit after they sold their government plane. So this is going to be felt province-wide.”
Health minister Ted Flemming confirmed that Sunday evening.
“I want to assure residents that their safety is our priority. Ambulance New Brunswick has stationed an additional ambulance and two additional crews on the island to assist during this time. The Air Care plane will be posted in Saint John whenever possible. Work on a long-term solution is ongoing to address the situation.”
MLA Rick Doucet said he’s spoke to the family of Klaus Sonnenberg and says they want to assure everyone the chartered planes will continue as normal.
Grand Manan resident Allan McDonald says Mallock and Sonnenberg flew “thousands of hours together” and that the service was a comfort to island residents.
“A lot of people would take advantage of this situation and say we need to change the service,” McDonald said. “But the service has been excellent. Atlantic Charters has been providing air ambulance service for years, long before there was even an air ambulance.”