People in the southwestern Manitoba village of Waskada are heartbroken after a man and his two young sons, along with another boy, were killed in a plane crash on Sunday.

Darren Spence, 37, was the pilot of the small plane that was carrying his sons, Logan, 9, and Gage, 10, that crashed in a field near the community. The third boy on the plane, Dawson Pentecost, 9, was a friend of the brothers.

'It's the worst thing that anybody can imagine.'—Waskada Mayor Gary Williams

There was no one else aboard the aircraft, police said.

A family member told CBC News that Dawson went on the plane with his two friends because he had never flown before.

Waskada Mayor Gary Williams said all the victims are from the village, which has been devastated.

"We know them very well. It's …, yeah, well it's the worst thing that anybody can imagine," he said.

Waskada, Man.

"It's just a very difficult situation and, I don't know, this is going to be the start of just a really hard week. Hope our community can pull together."

The village of Waskada is in southwestern Manitoba near the U.S. border. It has a population of 183, according to the 2011 census.

Many residents shed tears on Monday as they grappled with the deaths, the CBC's Angela Johnston reported from the community.

The Spence and Pentecost families declined to comment publicly on the crash on Monday.

Grief counsellors at school

Counsellors and mental health workers visited the local school, which the three boys attended. School officials said the counsellors will remain there for as long as necessary to help students deal with the deaths of their classmates.

"It's difficult. The mood is sombre," said Brad Kyle, superintendent of the Sunrise School Division.

"It's really nothing anyone could have immagined to have happened."

The school only has about 100 students and everyone knew each other, Williams said.

Williams called Spence "a good friend … [and] a good father. He was a guy that could brighten your day when you met him."

Spence was an experienced pilot who had a crop-dusting business in the community. It wasn't unusual for him to take people up for a short flight, Williams said, adding the weather was fine Sunday.

Williams described Spence's two sons as kids who enjoyed going to the rink and riding their bicycles.

Terry Linto, who knew Darren Spence for 15 years, described him as a devoted father and someone who was always willing to help.

"If there was more people like him and his nature, the world would be a better place," Linto told CBC News.

"His willingness to give and have good times and share with others — that's a real attribute to him."

Plane found north of village

The RCMP's Killarney detachment was notified of an overdue Cessna aircraft around 6 p.m. Sunday, and the small plane was found in a field shortly afterwards.

It was located about 10 kilometres north of the village after Canadian Forces search and rescue technicians were dispatched to the area.

Transportation Safety Board of Canada regional manager Peter Hildebrand told reporters the six-seat Cessna 210C had departed at around 1 p.m. from a private airstrip in the Waskada area, en route to Brandon.

Hildebrand said an emergency beacon from the plane was spotted at CFB Trenton at about 1 p.m. but the search didn't start until 6 p.m. when RCMP were informed the flight was late.

It's not uncommon for such delays because the beacon was an old-style one that goes off on impact but doesn't have GPS, so there's no way to know where a plane has gone down, only that it has, he said.

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Waskada School posts a memorial message for four people killed in Sunday's plane crash. (Angela Johnston/CBC)

Once emergency officials have a rough location of the crash they can begin the search.

The crash site was discovered at 6:35 p.m. in a farmer's field, Hildebrand said.

RCMP Forensic Identification personnel and Transportation Safety Board officials are on scene investigating.

Hildebrand said his investigators already know there was low cloud cover and possible icing on the plane at the time.

There was a lot of damage to the aircraft, with wreckage scattered over a large area, he said.

Hildebrand said the investigators will comb over the wreckage to determine if the plane malfunctioned in any way, but he added that they have not had a chance to look at the aircraft's maintenance records yet.

With files from The Canadian Press