Nfld. & Labrador

U.K. passenger dead after plane crash near Makkovik, pilot seriously injured

One person is dead after a plane crash and harrowing ground search on Labrador's north coast.

Blizzard conditions hampered rescue

A Cormorant Helicopter refuels on the Goose Bay landing strip as search and rescue crews attempt to reach the location of the crash near Makkovik on Wednesday. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

One person is dead after a plane crash and harrowing ground search on Labrador's north coast.

According to a spokesperson for the Canadian Armed Forces, the man's body has made it to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, along with the second man who is now in hospital there being treated for serious injuries.

A small plane on its way to Greenland crashed into the side of a mountain near Makkovik on Wednesday morning. Blizzard conditions hampered rescue efforts and prevented a Cormorant helicopter from landing near the site.

"The character and capabilities of Labradorians really kind of stood out last night," said Maj. Mark Norris. "We had real awful conditions at the crash location where our helicopter and our Hercules from [CFB] Greenwood could not get to where we had to get."

The pilot, a 47-year-old Belgian national, survived the crash, but was seriously injured. The 73-year-old U.K. man who was the passenger died.

The pilot was conscious and able to communicate with rescuers while they were trying to reach the site.

A ground search and rescue team consisting of nine people from Makkovik reached the two men by snowmobile on Wednesday evening.

They reached Makkovik around 9 p.m., but couldn't get a helicopter out until early Thursday morning due to weather. The two men were able to be transported to hospital in Happy Valley-Goose Bay around 5 a.m. Thursday.

Within about 500 meters our team had to stop and basically walk and crawl up the steep mountain.- Barry Andersen, search and rescue co-ordinator

Norris said they were in constant communication with the survivor, from the time of the crash to the time of his rescue.

"The pilot involved here was very prepared," Norris said. "He had multiple communication systems available and we had very good contact with him throughout the incident which really helped us maintain our situational awareness and make us understand what was really happening."

As the team of nine searchers went off into the stormy night, Barry Andersen was co-ordinating back in Makkovik.

He's the AngajukKak — or mayor — of the community, and heads the ground search and rescue team.

Searchers had the exact co-ordinates of the plane, but ran into trouble as they got closer to the site in the mountains outside Makkovik.

"Within about 500 meters our team had to stop and basically walk and crawl up the steep mountain to try and get to the co-ordinates," Andersen said.

They are in their element. They live here. They know the area.- Barry Andersen, search and rescue co-ordinator

There they found the plane teetering on the side of a steep slope with two men trapped inside.

"The aircraft was just perched right into the snowbank up on the side of one of those hills. The guys could not see down or up. Everything looked the same in those snow conditions, or blizzard conditions."

A helicopter was buzzing overhead, but couldn't land due to the weather.

"We decided to bring them on back to Makkovik and treat them here as best we could."

Bringing them down

The team carefully extracted the two men from the aircraft. The pilot was awake and alert, while the passenger was unconscious. Despite the conditions, Andersen said he never doubted his team.

"I had full confidence in our GSAR team members. They are in their element. They live here. They know the area."

While it took a little over an hour to get to the site, it took more than three hours to get back with the men in tow.

"They took their time and the guy was very appreciative of the ground search team members. It must have been a great relief for him to see somebody banging on his aircraft after he was pinned there for so long."

The plane had come from Sept-Iles, Que., and was heading for Greenland at the time of the crash. One man was from Belgium while the other was from the United Kingdom. Norris couldn't say which man was deceased, as next of kin had yet to be located.

Investigators from the Transportation Safety Board will try to reach the site on Thursday to begin the probe into what went wrong.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The Canadian Press and CBC's Jacob Barker