A plane carrying five people has crashed and burned near the First Nations community of North Spirit Lake in northwestern Ontario, killing at least four of five people on board, according to transportation officials.

Witnesses said the plane crashed during blizzard conditions.  

Peter Hildebrand of the Transportation Safety Board in Winnipeg told CBC News the Piper PA-31 Navajo crashed about 10 a.m. Tuesday in the remote community, which is about 175 kilometres north of the gold-mining town of Red Lake.

The cause of the crash isn't known. A pair of federal investigators won't be able to reach the crash site until Wednesday morning because of its remote location

The plane, carrying a pilot and four passengers, was en route to North Spirit Lake from Winnipeg. The aircraft went down about a kilometre from the runway during its landing approach. It crashed on a frozen lake and caught fire, Hildebrand said.

"We understand it was one of the passengers that survived the accident," Hildebrand said, adding that the survivor was male.

The occupants had all formerly lived in Winnipeg or North Spirit Lake.

A survivor of the crash, Brian Shead, is in stable condition in a Winnipeg hospital, health officials in that city told CBC News late Tuesday.

One of the deceased passengers, Colette Eisinger, was originally from the Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba, although she was most recently living in Winnipeg.

Sagkeeng Chief Donovan Fontaine said the woman was related to two of his employees, and they're taking the news hard.

"She was well educated in finances, accountability, that's the work she did, so a big loss," Fontaine said.

CBC News is not naming the other victims at this time, as not all of the next of kin have been notified.

Crash eyewitness Darcy Kejick said he drove his snow machine to the crash site, and then helped throw snow on the fire in an attempt to put it out.

No recorders

Hildebrand said the aircraft, operated by Keystone Air Service Ltd., a charter airline based in St. Andrews, Man., did not carry a cockpit voice recorder or a flight data recorder, technology it was not required to have.

Airspace in the region is uncontrolled, so pilots have liberty on their landing approach, Hildebrand said. The pilot was in communication with air controllers in Winnipeg after takeoff, but Hildebrand said he was not aware of any communications with the plane afterward.

There are few weather reporting stations in the area, he said. In Red Lake, Ont., reported conditions included light snow, good visibility and a temperature of –1 C.

Elaine Keesick, education director from the Victoria Linklater Memorial School in North Spirit Lake, said one of her teachers lost a daughter in the crash.

Keesick said the weather there was horrible and she couldn't see far from her front window when the plane crashed a short distance from the home of her brother, who along with his family were the first on the crash scene.

Keesick said she could not believe the Keystone plane would have attempted the flight, given the heavy snowfall.

"Our students were supposed to travel out to the high school today, and when I woke up before eight o'clock I looked outside and it was snowing that bad that I said, 'I guess there's no point in flying today.' And I was surprised to hear that Keystone was coming in," she said.  

Keystone Air spokesman George Riopka told CBC News that while there is no weather station at North Spirit Lake, the forecast that day was deemed to be acceptable.

"The pilots do do flight programming or pre-flight planning," he said.  "They get what they call [graphical area] forecasts for the area, and the weather was acceptable to fly."

Keystone Air will provide grief counselling to family members and others, Riopka said.

"We're meeting with the aboriginal community representative, and grief counselling is going to be provided at the expense of Keystone to the families and other people that require it," he said.

The Piper PA-31 Navajo is a twin-engine plane capable of carrying seven passengers and a pilot.

With files from The Canadian Press