RED LAKE, Ont. – Five people, including a Winnipeg pilot, are dead after a Bearskin Airlines plane crashed on approach to the Red Lake airport in northwestern Ontario and burst into flames.
Two people survived the crash of the twin-engine turboprop about 500 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay just after 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Ontario Provincial Police said.
Bearskin Airlines Flight 311 was on a scheduled half-hour flight from Sioux Lookout, Ont., to Red Lake and was descending when it crashed about three kilometers south of the airport. Red Lake is 270 kilometres north of Kenora and about 100 kilometres east of the Manitoba boundary.
The two pilots were among those killed, said Sgt. Rob McDonough at the provincial police communications centre in Thunder Bay. Global News has learned one of the pilots is Winnipegger Peter Traczuk, a married father of three.
The survivors were identified as a 29-year-old man and a 50-year-old woman, both from Winnipeg.
“The one male was actually the one that called us to report the crash. He was able to pull the woman out of the wreckage prior to it becoming fully engulfed in flames,” McDonough said.
The two were taken by ambulance to hospital where McDonough said they were treated for non-life-threatening injuries. He noted the man was able to walk to the ambulance, while the woman appeared to have suffered a back injury.
Terry Harapiak, the owner of Red Lake gas station TJ’s Kwik Stop, said one of the victims is a close friend of his family.
“These people are my neighbours and my best friends,” he said on Monday morning.
The three passengers who died are local residents, he said, including a woman who lives across the street from Harapiak.
“She was a saint,” he said, explaining that when his wife had cancer four years ago and had to live in Winnipeg for a while, the neighbour “became like a second mom to my kids.”
Before the crash he spoke to her husband, who said he had to go to the airport to pick her up.
“She was just a good person.”
The first real winter weather of the season was hitting the town when the crash happened, Harapiak said.
Peter Hildebrand of the Transportation Safety Board said there were snow showers in the area, but a special weather observation taken right after the crash showed conditions weren’t unusual.
“Above even visual limits, not especially severe for this time of year,” he said.
Transportation Safety Board investigators are expected to arrive at the crash site this afternoon, Hildebrand said.
The 19-passenger aircraft knocked down some Hydro lines during the crash and power is still off for some customers, a notice on the town website said.
McDonough said a local fire crew quickly doused the fire the crash sparked in both the plane and the woods.
“The plane was totally destroyed by the flames,” he said. “Upon impact it burst into flames and then set bush around it on fire as well.”
There’s no word yet on the cause of the crash, but Transportation Safety Board investigator Ross Peden, who was in Red Lake, told Global News that he interviewed the 29-year-old survivor.
“He did confirm that there was some sort of an issue with one of the aircraft’s engines,” Peden said.
Peden said amazingly, the man didn’t have a scratch on him.
“He said that the aircraft was damaged quite severely and that he exited by opening an over-wing exit and getting out,” Peden said.
Investigators will examine “all aspects of the aircraft,” including the structure, controls, engines, propeller and landing gear, to see if “any of it could be related to the accident that happened,” said TSB spokesman Peter Hildebrand.
There were light clouds and moderate winds out of the northwest around the time of the crash, as well as some snow showers, “but not anything severe in terms of this time of year,” he said.
Transport Minister Lisa Raitt expressed her condolences on Twitter.
Bearskin Airlines is based in Sioux Lookout and has operated since 1963, employing 300 people in Ontario and Manitoba. Executive Vice President of Bearskin Airlines told Global News he hopes to work with the Transportation Safety Board on the investigation, “our biggest concern of course is for the families of the deceased as well as our employees who are dealing with this tragedy.”
Its fleet of 16 Metro Fairchild planes serve 18 destinations in the two provinces.
In May 1995 a Bearskin aircraft collided with a Piper Navajo near the Sioux Lookout airport, killing all eight people on board the two planes.