Canadian humanitarian worker missing after small plane crash in Dominican Republic
A Canadian humanitarian who helped facilitate a Penticton elementary school class’ ‘random acts of kindness’ school project is one of three people who were on board a plane that crashed off the coast of the Dominican Republic after delivering aid in Haiti.
Humanitarian organization Live Different, which is based in Hamilton, says long-time employee Benjamin Cole Brown was on board the aircraft with Americans Chuck and Candy Ritzen at the time of the crash.
The three were returning from Haiti where they had delivered donations and other aid to help local residents rebuild from Hurricane Mathew.
Brown, 36, had lived overseas for nearly a decade managing programs for the Canadian charity Live Different in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
In May of 2015, Brown accepted and helped deliver handmade pencil cases made by students at Columbia Elementary School to hundreds of students at a school in the northern Haitian city of Cap-Haïtien.
READ MORE: Sharp contrasts between Canada and Haiti
Live Different spokeswoman Jennifer Digiandomenico says organization staff are at the crash site awaiting word on the search for survivors.
She says employees are holding out hope that the man, who many refer to simply as Cole, is still alive.
“We love Cole so much,” she said in a telephone interview.
“He is a big part of the Live Different family, which extends all across Canada and the Dominican Republic and Haiti. We have received so many phone calls and emails from people in all three countries who are still praying and thinking of Cole.”
Digiandomenico said Brown boarded the personal plane with Chuck and Candy Ritzen, an American couple also involved in the humanitarian aid field, on Monday night as the three prepared to return to the Dominican Republic.
The plane, she said, was Chuck Ritzen’s personal aircraft that was frequently used for travel between the two countries.
A spokesman for Global Affairs Canada said they were informed that a Canadian citizen was missing off the coast of the Dominican Republic.
“Debris from a small aircraft has been recovered near Puerto Plata and consular officials at the Consulate of Canada in Puerto Plata Consular are in contact with local authorities to gather additional information,” Austin Jean wrote in an email to The Canadian Press.
He said consular officials are providing assistance to the family.
A statement from the Dominican civil aviation authority says the plane took off from Port-au-Prince on Monday and was headed to the coastal town of Puerto Plata. The Dominican air force had located wreckage from the plane.
The single-engine Lake LA-250 apparently lost contact with the control tower shortly after 6 p.m. when it was about six kilometres from the town.
Digiandomenico confirmed that investigators had recovered some debris from the aircraft and said helicopters were currently flying over the area searching for the passengers.
She said Brown, who had worked for Live Different for the past 13 years, grew up near Hamilton and went to high school in the area. He spent some time working in construction and seemed a natural fit for Live Different as it undertook to start building family homes in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, she said.
Brown spent the past 10 years living at various international sites and eventually rose through the ranks to become the manager of operations in the two countries, she said.
At all times, Digiandomenico said he was driven by his passion for social justice.
“His life was his work,” she said. “He’s a super influential person. He’s an amazing speaker.”
Brown was instrumental in the construction of more than 250 homes for families in need in the Dominican Republic and he helped facilitate the building of the school in Cap-Haïtien, according to Live Different staff.
One of the future projects Brown was working on included a rescue home for exploited girls in Haiti.
In his spare time, Digiandomenico said Brown occupied himself with his hobbies: music and photography.
According to his personal website, Brown used his photography skills to document lives in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that rocked Haiti in 2010. His photos have been featured on the Huffington Post, the New York Times and numerous other websites and publications.
© 2016 The Canadian Press