Victims identified in fatal Ornge helicopter crash

VIDEO: A tragic air ambulance crash in northern Ontario killed four people Friday. Alan Carter reports. 

TORONTO – Two pilots and two paramedics are dead after an Ornge air ambulance helicopter crashed shortly after takeoff in northern Ontario Friday morning, killing everyone on board.

The weather was fine; the 33-year-old helicopter had recently been certified as safe.

But the provincial air ambulance service took two helicopters of the same make out of service Friday, just in case. An investigation is ongoing.

That was supposed to be Chris Snowball’s last shift.

After a series of three-month contracts with Ornge, the Burlington resident was just a week away from starting a new job in Thunder Bay, Ont.

“His brother, I’ve never seen him cry in my life, even when he got a spanking as a kid,” said his father John Snowball. “He cried today.”

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Chris Snowball, 38, had worked as a paramedic in Nova Scotia and Ontario for 19 years. He and his wife Allie Scott had three children.

“I lost my husband and my kid’s father,” Scott said, “but they [Ornge] also lost four crew members.”

Primary Care Flight Paramedic Dustin Dagenais was among those killed on board. The Moose Factory resident and former Ontario Hockey League player joined Ornge in 2011 after working for the James Bay Ambulance Services.

The 34-year-old would “go above and beyond to make anybody more comfortable,” said his friend Ryan Gould.

“What made him good? Just his whole way. One of those guys that everybody wants to be around, makes everybody feel good.”

Captain Don Filliter of Skead, Ont. and First Officer Jacques Dupuy, of Otterburn-Park, Que., were also killed. Ornge says it has notified the family members of those who were on board.

John Snowball said his son had been working a series of three-month contracts with Ornge and was just a week away from starting a job in Thunder Bay, Ont.

The helicopter left Moosonee en route to Attawapiskat around midnight, but Ornge officials lost contact with the 33-year-old Sikorsky S76 just 11 minutes later. The helicopter went down roughly 1.29 kilometres away from Moosonee.

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A search and rescue team dispatched from CFB Trenton found the downed aircraft at 6 a.m. Friday.

VIDEO: Ornge air ambulance paramedics are highly skilled workers. Beatrice Politi reports.

Provincial police in North Bay said they called in military rescue crews, who parachuted down to the “very remote bush area” where the chopper went down.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada is investigating and is expected to look at recent safety tests done on all Ornge helicopters.

The weather was “adequate” Ornge CEO Andrew McCallum said during a press conference Friday. He said all Ornge aircraft go through regular safety checks, and that the downed helicopter had recently been certified as safe by Transport Canada.

WATCH: Dr. Andrew McCallum, president and CEO of Ornge, speaks to the media about the tragic helicopter crash.

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Ornge has two other Sikorsky S76 helicopters it uses daily. But it has taken them all out of service out of “an abundance of caution” as a result of Friday’s crash, Ornge COO Rob Giguere said.

“Everybody at Ornge is deeply saddened by this tragic incident, and our hearts go out to the families and friends of those who lost their lives,” McCallum said. “We will do whatever we can to support them at this difficult time. We will also co-operate fully with the authorities charged with investigating the accident.”

In the hours after the crash, condolences poured in for the fallen ambulance workers.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper tweeted: “Condolences to the families of the four victims of the northern Ontario air ambulance crash last night. You are in my thoughts and prayers.”

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said the “sacrifice” of the pilots and paramedics will be ” honoured and remembered.”

“I am devastated to learn of the deaths of two pilots and two paramedics following the crash of an Ornge air ambulance near Moosonee,” Wynne said in a statement.

Watch: Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne expresses sadness over the crash of an Ornge air ambulance Friday.

Minister of Health Deb Mathews released a statement Friday afternoon saying she is “heartbroken” by the loss of the four Ornge employees.

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“Four people dedicated to saving the lives of others have lost their own lives.  They are true heroes, as are their fellow frontline paramedics and pilots, who are committed to working hard every day to provide care to our loved ones,” Mathews said in the statement.

And Ornge colleagues share their condolences online.

‘Deeply saddened by the lose [sic] of my teammates! #teamOrnge #RIP’, Travis Brown tweeted.

Steph Levecque of Peterborough tweeted: “I am devastated with the news about 7793 this morning.Sending all my love to my coworkers @Ornge this morning. #teamOrnge #bestrong.”

With a file from The Canadian Press

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