Nfld. & Labrador

DND probes alleged delays in search for Labrador boy

A top defence department official says the federal government has launched an investigation into a search that recovered the body of a 14-year-old Labrador snowmobiler who was missing since Sunday.

Burton Winters found dead 19 kilometres from abandoned snowmobile

A photograph taken from a search and rescue helicopter shows the snowmobile abandoned by the boy who died in Labrador. (RCMP)

A top defence department official says the federal government has launched an investigation into a search that eventually recovered the body of a 14-year-old Labrador snowmobiler who had been missing since Sunday.

"The death of this young man is a tragedy…. I have asked officials to look into the incident and I can inform the House that the chief of defence staff has commenced an investigation," said Associate Minister of National  Defence Julian Fantino in response to a question from NDP defence critic Jack Harris.

Fantino's comments come a day after a member of Newfoundland and Labrador's house of assembly questioned if the boy could have been found alive if a military search and rescue helicopter had responded sooner.

"It's way too late," said Labrador MHA Randy Edmunds, who helped recover the body of Burton Winters on Wednesday. "You don't show up for search and rescue efforts after three days up here.

"The value of life up here is just as important as … anywhere else in Canada."

Searchers found Winters' body on ocean ice, 19 kilometres from his abandoned snowmobile.

Burton Winters, shown in a photo posted to a Facebook tribute page, died this week off the coast of Labrador. (CBC)

The boy was reported missing Sunday night. A search and rescue helicopter was called, but RCMP Cpl. Kimball Vardy said it didn't arrive until Tuesday evening.

"The initial calls were difficult because, first of all, air support out of Gander and Goose Bay were not available," Vardy told CBC News.

Instead, a private chopper arrived Monday morning, followed by a second later that day. But neither had technology to detect heat in the dark. The search was also complicated by bad weather.

Edmunds, who represents the coastal Labrador district of Torngat Mountains in the provincial legislature, said he would press for answers.

"I haven't got a reasonable explanation yet, or one that will satisfy me, but rest assured in my capability — as well as many others who were involved in the search — [we] will be asking some of these questions," he said.

Teen walked through deep snow, jagged ice

Barry Andersen, one of the searchers, said the discovery of the body was grim, but necessary.

"I guess it was relief, the emotion that we felt," he told CBC News.

"At least we found a body to bring some closure to the family and to the rest of the community as a whole."

No doubt disoriented by the ice and snow, Winters was found about seven kilometres from the nearest point of land. He had walked through deep snow and jagged ice.

Edmunds, who helped search for Winters, said the distance the teen had walked from his snowmobile underscored the ordeal.

"When we went out in the helicopter we were shaking our heads at the distance this young man walked," he said.

"It was unreal, and just showed the sheer determination to survive."

Meanwhile, friends and neighbours have been expressing their shock and grief in venues such as Facebook, where tributes to the teenager have been posted.