Fatal Manitoba plane crash under investigation
7 injured passengers upgraded to stable condition
The federal Transportation Safety Board is investigating a plane crash in northern Manitoba that injured seven mine employees and killed pilot Mark Gogal, whose family owns the airline that operated the plane.
Eight people were aboard the Cessna 208 aircraft, also known as a Caravan, when it went down at about 10 a.m. CT on Sunday near the town of Snow Lake, about 700 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
The plane was operated by Gogal Air Service, which is owned by Gogal's father.
It had just taken off and was headed to Winnipeg, RCMP said.
The plane went down in a densely wooded area about two kilometres from the Snow Lake airport, which is about 10 kilometres east of the town.
Transportation Safety Board investigator Ross Peden arrived at Snow Lake late Sunday night and went to the site Monday morning. Two more investigators were expected to arrive at the scene in the evening, he said.
"I believe tomorrow, we'll remove some of the wreckage to take back to our shop and then on to the lab in Gatineau for analysis," he told reporters.
Peden said at this point in the investigation, it appears that the aircraft was operating normally.
According to Transport Canada, Gogal Air Service has nine registered aircraft, including the one involved in Sunday's crash.
Gogal, 40, a resident of Snow Lake, was the only person who died. Members of his family declined media requests and did not release a statement on Monday.
The other seven passengers, all adult males who work for mining company Dumas Holdings, were taken to hospital with serious injuries, but the Nor-Man Regional Health Authority said their conditions have since been upgraded to stable.
Some passengers being treated in Winnipeg
Five of the injured have been transferred to hospitals in Winnipeg, while the others are being treated in The Pas and Flin Flon, according to officials.
Dennis St. Jean, who owns a restaurant and service station in Snow Lake, said he knew the pilot and has worked in the mine with the seven survivors.
He would not identify the surviving passengers, but said the men are from New Brunswick, Ontario and Quebec.
"I mean, like, it's devastating," St. Jean said.
"People in town themselves knew quite a few of the passengers because they frequented the local pub here, you know? And it doesn't take long for people to know people from this town."
Snow Lake Mayor Clarence Fisher said the crash and Gogal's death have been hard on the community.
"Snow Lake is a very small town so something like this touches everyone," he said. "Whether it's [residents or] mining contractors that have only been in town a short time, people make Snow Lake home pretty fast."
Dumas Holdings, the mining company that the injured passengers work for, also declined to release the injured workers' names, saying it wants to respect their privacy.
The company extended its "deepest sympathies" to the family and friends of the pilot.
Getting into the crash site was a challenge, said Gerald Strilkiwski, a contractor in the area.
He said his crews were in their office in town when they heard about the crash. They immediately grabbed a bulldozer and headed to the site.
"That's about the only way to get in to these remote places like that," he said.
It took about an hour and a half to plow a road through the trees, rock and swamp to get to the crash site, Strilkiwski said.
The scene was disturbing, with the entire cockpit smashed in, he said.
"It was ugly. I guess when the plane had gone down, the trees were probably about six inches in diameter and that's what really smashed the front of the plane," he said.
Kelly Wiwcharuk, a manager at the Snow Lake Hospital, said it was all hands on deck as staff and emergency crews responded to the plane crash.
"This many patients, and this kind of an accident, you know, I have never been involved in something like that," she said.
"So we just started stocking everything that we could, figuring out where we were going to put all our patients, and how everybody was going to be triaged."