Nfld. & Labrador

Burton Winters's death prompts long-awaited inquiry into search and rescue services

The provincial government said the inquiry comes as a result of a commitment it made to those working in marine environments and to the family of Burton Winters.

14-year-old died in 2012 after he went snowmobiling on the sea ice outside Makkovik

Burton Winters, 14, died after he went snowmobiling on the sea ice outside Makkovik in 2012. (Submitted by the Winters family)

The government of Newfoundland and Labrador has announced an inquiry into the province's search and rescue services.

The inquiry's establishment is "in keeping with a commitment we made to the people of the province, to those working in marine environments, and to the family and friends of Burton Winters," according to a government release sent Tuesday.

Winters, 14, died after he went snowmobiling on the sea ice outside Makkovik in 2012. His body was found three days after he went missing, and the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre waited two days to send air support to help find him.

This is 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 19 kilometres away. (RCMP)

The provincial Liberals made an inquiry into his death a campaign promise in 2015.

Until Tuesday, that date had never been set, with government saying it was waiting for the results of a Senate report into national search and rescue operations was completed, to avoid doubling up on work.

Tommy Williams, the lawyer for the family of Winters, said the provincial government reached out to the family as recently as Monday night, asking if they wanted the inquiry to proceed. 

He said the answer was yes, as they cited many unanswered questions. 

Tommy Williams says the family of Burton Winters is pleased the inquiry into search and rescue services is going ahead. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

"We are most pleased, very pleased [the inquiry will happen]," Williams told reporters on Tuesday. 

Williams said he is looking forward to seeing the terms of reference for the inquiry. 

Inquiry won't just focus on Winters

According to Tuesday's release, the inquiry won't focus on a single incident, but look at how services "as a whole" are provided in the province.

That's fine, said Williams.

"Yes, we'd like to get the answers to the questions in his particular case, but as well to see whether or not there are findings and determinations that can be made to avoid these kind of issues," he said. 

The Senate's newly-released report will help inform the basis of the provincial inquiry, government said.

In the release, Premier Dwight Ball said he has already spoken with federal officials about his government's intent to begin an inquiry.

Premier Dwight Ball says he has contacted the family of Burton Winters to tell them an inquiry has been called. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

"While considerable strides have been made with respect to search and rescue, through the mechanism of an inquiry, we will endeavour to identify any remaining gaps and pursue the best possible outcomes for the people of our province," he said.

The inquiry will be established in 2019, according to the release.

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