Pilot killed in Red Lake crash called 'inspiring' friend

Ani Sawant packed a lifetime's worth of experience and friendship in 25 short years, say friends mourning the pilot killed in Sunday's fatal plane crash in Red Lake, Ont.

TSB says cockpit voice recorder has been recovered

Ani Sawant, 25, was a pilot for Bearskin Airlines. He was killed when his plane went down in Red Lake Sunday. (Courtesy Patrick Ross )

Ani Sawant packed a lifetime's worth of experience and friendship in 25 short years, say friends mourning the pilot killed in Sunday's fatal plane crash in Red Lake, Ont.

"It was interesting to see so much life in one person. He was an artist, a drummer, he was a pilot. He somehow fit all of these things into his life," said Dana Murray, who was friends with AniSawant for the past two years.

"He just affected everyone's life and there's a huge hole missing now in all of our lives. He inspired all of us to live to our fullest."

Another friend is still in disbelief.

Patrick Ross said he and Sawant were roommates, band mates and close friends.

He said Tuesday he felt "very sad and strange" at Sawant's apartment, knowing he died two days ago.

Ross said he's still trying to come to terms with his death.

"(A) few people said, 'Did you hear about that Bearskin flight' or something to that affect, and I realized he didn't come home," he said. "And he should have came home. And then it clicked. 'Oh my God. I think my friend's plane crashed," he said.

Ross said Sawant's family is planning to come to Winnipeg to collect his belongings and take them back to Toronto with them.

"I figured I'd meet his family, but not like this," he said.

Murray said Sawant touched a lot of people. 

"[Sawant] always talk about leaving a legacy and I used to ask him what his goal in it all was. What his music was for," said Murray.

"He wanted to put a smile on people's faces. He wanted people to be genuinely happy with the message he was putting out there. And I think he really, really did that."

A member of the Transportation Safety Board investigates the wreckage of Bearskin Airlines flight 311. (Lindsay Briscoe/The Northern Sun News)

Sawant was born in India, but he grew up in Mississauga, Ont., and had recently been living in Winnipeg while working as a pilot for Bearskin Airlines.

The 25-year-old man was among five people killed when a Bearskin Airlines twin-engine turboprop crashed through trees and burst into flames just after 6:30 p.m. ET Sunday.

The plane had departed from Sioux Lookout and was on its approach to the Red Lake airport, about 270 kilometres north of Kenora.

The other pilot, 34-year-old Peter Traczuk, from Winnipeg, was also killed.

The other three fatalities were passengers — a 53-year-old woman, a 53-year-old man and a 64-year-old woman, all from Red Lake.

There were two survivors, a 29-year-old man and 50-year-old woman, both from Winnipeg.

Call made before crash

The Transportation Safety Board's Peter Hildebrand said the pilots had made a call in advance of the crash.

"As far as we can tell, things were operating relatively normally until sometime during the descent and then the crews indicated some kind of emergency and the aircraft was still en route to runway 26 at Red Lake," he said.

Hildebrand confirmed Tuesday afternoon that investigators have recovered the cockpit voice recorder from the wreckage.

He said the flight data recorder had been recovered earlier. Hildebrand said both suffered some damage from the impact and the resulting fire​.

Hildebrand said the investigation is still in the early stages.

"We don't know what kind of emergency it is that they were dealing with, and we have not much further information as to what they meant by that," he said Tuesday.​

TSB documents show the same plane was in two previous incidents, including one that caused 'substantial damage.'

But Hildebrand said it's not unusual for damaged aircraft to be fixed and returned to service.

Bearskin Airlines said it's doing what it can to help employees cope. The last fatal crash involving the company happened 18 years ago.


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