Nfld. & Labrador

'He wanted to be home with us,' family says of teen

The parents of a 14-year-old Labrador snowmobiler whose death has ignited a debate on search and rescue say they take comfort that their son's story has moved so many people.

Parents say Burton Winters showed remarkable will to survive in long walk over ice seeking shelter

Photographs of Burton Winters are framed by flowers and tributes at the home of Rod and Natalie Jacque in Makkovik. (CBC )

The parents of an adolescent snowmobiler whose death in northern Labrador has ignited a national debate on search and rescue services say they have taken comfort knowing that their son's story has moved so many people.

Makkovik resident Burton Winters, 14, was found dead on sea ice outside his community, three days after his snowmobile got stuck.

Natalie Jacque, seen in a family portrait, said her stepson Burton (standing) clearly wanted to survive his ordeal on the ice. (CBC )

Stepmother Natalie Jacque told CBC News that the fact that Winters walked 19 kilometres from his abandoned snowmobile shows how much he wanted to survive.

"You can just tell from his distance and his strength, and his determination, he wanted to get home. He wanted to be home with us," Jacque said in an interview.

Federal officials have been coming under increasing pressure to review search protocols that kept military search and rescue aircraft from joining a search in the immediate hours after he was reported missing on the night of Jan. 29.

The Canadian Forces said poor weather conditions and the presence of a private helicopter in the search were among the reasons that prevented the military from joining the search for two days. His body was found on Feb. 1.

Winters was last seen visiting his grandparents. It's not known how Winters — whom family described as being a little mischievous but not at all given to risky behaviour — wound up on the sea ice. Many in Makkovik believe he mistakenly missed a turn on a trail, and wound up heading to the ice.

When his snowmobile became stuck in sea ice, Winters turned his attention to walking home. RCMP said the boy's footsteps tell a story in themselves, starting with a bold pace and gradually becoming sluggish as he tired while moving over harsh terrain.

'You can just tell from his distance and his strength, and his determination, he wanted to get home.'—Natalie Jacque

Jacque and her husband, Rod Jacque, said they have been touched by the outpouring of support from the community, and know that the story of the search resonates for many people in Labrador's remote communities.

Vigils along the coast and elsewhere in Newfoundland and Labrador have been organized, with many calling for changes in how search and rescue services are organized.

Burton's parents are impressed by their son's determination to survive during terrible conditions.

"The cold and the dark and the hunger and the disorientation, everything put together, that is what is unbelievable, that he had to go through all of that with the distance," Natalie Jacque said.

The footsteps show that Winters, near the edge of ice, laid down on his back, closed his eyes and never woke up. The family has taken some comfort in knowing that his final moments were peaceful.

The couple's home is filled with flowers and photos. Burton Winters's bedroom is filled with video games. He had dreamed of one day designing them.

"He wasn't a loud boy anyway but the house is already quiet," said Jacque.

The area of open water where the tracks from Burton Winters's snowmobile led. The snowmobile was later located on ice by searchers; the teen's body was found a 19 kilometre walk away. (RCMP)