Hundreds attend memorial for Ornge crew

Ornge, Ontario's transport medicine service, shows off their latest addition at Ottawa Airport May 24, 2010. Chris Mikula / Ottawa Citizen

TORONTO – More than 200 mourners, paramedics, police and Ornge representatives gathered at a memorial service on Tuesday for two pilots and two paramedics killed late last month in an air ambulance crash.

Capt. Don Filliter, First Officer Jacques Dupuy, and flight paramedics Dustin Dagenais and Chris Snowball died when an Ornge helicopter crashed shortly after takeoff from Moosonee, Ont.

The memorial service was attended by Premier Kathleen Wynne and Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews at the Toronto Police College, where the helmets of the four victims were placed in front of their portraits as a tribute.

Wynne — wearing a black dress with a small Ornge ribbon — said that the victims did not consider their work with Ornge just as jobs, but as “an extension of who they were.”

“Their friends and families, I know, and communities have suffered a great loss and I want you to know that Ontario has suffered that loss with you,” she said.

Story continues below advertisement

“I’m here because I want to tell you that the work of these men is not lost on the people of Ontario. We thank them all. And as we gather today to mark their sacrifice, we reflect on what their lives can tell us about ourselves and our province.”

George Duncan, the grandfather of Snowball, spoke outside of the memorial and said that being a paramedic was something his grandson had “always wanted to do.”

“He was actually filling in for somebody else,” Duncan said, adding that he was having an especially hard time coming to terms with that fact. “He was supposed to be back home.”

Duncan also said that Snowball perished in the crash just four days before his 39th birthday.

Dr. Andrew McCallum, president and CEO of Ornge, thanked the people of Moosonee on behalf of Ornge’s 600 employees for coming out in the cold and rain shortly after the crash to pay tribute to the victims.

“These past few weeks have been tremendously difficult for the Ornge family, as we cope with the tragic loss of our friends and colleagues,” he said.

“Ornge may have appeared to be different things to different people in recent years, but like the men we honour today you have never lost sight of our true mission,” he said in remarks directed to Ornge staff at the memorial.

Story continues below advertisement

Ornge helicopters circled over the memorial service as a bagpiper led a procession of family and friends to an Ornge ambulance that they then covered in flowers.

The helicopter carrying the four men had just left its base at the Moosonee airport to pick up a patient in the remote Attawapiskat First Nation when it crashed early on May 31.

Transportation Safety Board officers investigating the crash have said mechanical failure did not appear to be the cause.