Members of a Manitoba family who thought they were flying from Winnipeg to Red Sucker Lake First Nation with the body of a relative were shocked to find out they made the trip with an empty casket.

Helena Margo McDougall red sucker lake

Allan Harper said his family was bringing the body of his niece, Helena Margo McDougall, pictured above, back home. But they were shocked when they arrived in Red Sucker Lake with an empty casket.

"They put the wrong casket in [the plane]

," Allan Harper said. "An empty casket on that charter plane." 

Harper said family members were to travel with the body of his niece, Helena Margo McDougall, on a Perimeter Aviation flight Jan. 26. But when they got to their destination, they realized her body had been left behind. 

"When the family was told that they didn't bring the body, it was very emotional," said Harper. "I heard a lot of crying in there. I was there myself waiting for my brother to bring that body back. It hurt a lot of community people — a lot of community people went to the airport to greet my brother when they got back."

Harper said Perimeter flew the body into the community on another plane a few hours later. 

"It's very hard to forget, and it's very hard for the family to accept what happened," Harper said.

Perimeter Aviation spokesman Nick Vodden said the company mistakenly sent an empty casket that was supposed to go to another northern community, then sent the correct one on the next plane.

'We as an organization were deeply upset, and we immediately contacted the family.' - Nick Vodden, Perimeter Aviation

He blamed it on a mix-up in the warehouse because caskets aren't labelled with a person's name.

"We changed the procedure at the request of the communities a few years ago to not label them out of respect, and through that procedure change, we lost some accuracy," he said.

As a result of the mix-up, the company will begin tagging caskets in the warehouse, then remove the label before the casket is unloaded in the community.

Perimeter has reimbursed the family for the complete cost of the charter flight and has apologized.

"We as an organization were deeply upset, and we immediately contacted the family," Vodden said.

Harper said the apology was over the phone and he would like officials to tell the family face to face.

Red Sucker Lake First Nation, Garden Hill First Nation, St. Theresa Point First Nation and Wasagamack First Nation put out a news release Thursday expressing their "dismay and disappointment with the treatment of the Harper family." 

Harper said Perimeter should allow a family representative to witness the casket being placed on the plane to ensure no other family goes through the same thing.