N.W.T. rescuer finds cousins alive in plane wreckage

A man who was leading rescue crews to an Air Tindi plane crash near Lutselk'e, N.W.T., arrived at the site to discover the two survivors were cousins of his.
The Air Tindi Cessna 208B that crashed near Lutselk'e, N.W.T., on Tuesday carried four people. Two died and two are in stable condition in an Edmonton hospital. (CBC)

A man who was leading rescue crews to an Air Tindi plane crash, arrived at the site to discover the two survivors were cousins of his.

The Cessna 208B plane crashed Tuesday near Lutselk’e, N.W.T. The other two people on board, the pilot and another passenger, died in the tragic crash. This is the third plane crash in the North in just seven weeks.

Al John Catholique had been out boating on the East Arm of Great Slave Lake with his father and cousin about eight kilometres from the site of the fatal crash.

Catholique said the weather was "pretty foggy and raining" when the three went ashore to set up camp. They heard a plane and thought it was a search and rescue aircraft that had come looking for them since they had had boat trouble and were out longer than planned.

They waved the plane down. It turned out to be an Air Tindi Twin Otter on its way to where the Cessna 208B aircraft carrying four people had crashed, and the crew asked for help getting there.

Needed a guide

"They needed somebody as a guide," Catholique said. "They didn’t bring a gun and they knew there were bears around."

Catholique is originally from Lutselk’e and knows the area. He volunteered and he and the Twin Otter crew plugged the co-ordinates of the downed plane into their GPS units and started hiking.

Catholique said when the crew told him a plane had crashed nearby, he hoped that none of his relatives were on board. But at the crash site, the rescuers found two of his cousins, alive and conscious.

'Take Bernice first'

He said from within the crumpled wreckage, his cousin Sheldon Catholique told rescuers to get another passenger, Bernice Marlowe, out of the plane ahead of him.

"Sheldon was the last one, because Sheldon told us, ‘Just take Bernice first.’"

John said Marlowe was barely conscious.

"Bernice I couldn't talk to very much, because they wanted her just to breathe and that, but Sheldon was pretty good, I mean he wanted to talk. He asked for my name so I went over and just talked to him.

"I said, ‘I know you are hurting. I know, and I wish I could do something to help.’"

Catholique said RCMP officers from the Lutselk’e detachment arrived on the scene later and set up camp to guard the plane through the night. The bodies of the pilot and the other passenger who died were still inside.

Marlowe and Sheldon Catholique are in stable condition in an Edmonton hospital.

Broken bones

Marlowe’s sister Agatha Laboucan said she has spoken to her sister, who has broken bones. She said Bernice assured her all was well.

"She just said ‘Quit crying, I'm fine. Don't worry about anything.'"

Aviation consultant Yvan-Miville Des Chenes said he believes weather may have played a factor in the crash, as he said normally the pilot would not have flown so low.

"If fog was present, and it creeps up into the lower atmosphere, therefore visibility is very poor and that's most likely what's going to come about a year from now in the final report of the TSB," he said.

He also said fatigue may have been a factor given the long hours some pilots have to work.

The TSB has not indicated how long the investigation will take.

Lutselk'e, with a population of 318 in the 2006 census, is a community about 200 kilometres east of Yellowknife, reachable only by aircraft, by boat or by winter road. Catholique is due to return to Yellowknife on Saturday, and said he has thought about making the trip by boat, calling the idea "tempting."

But it’s more likely he will fly.

"I’m hoping the weather’s nice," he said.