What happened on the ground after the Fond-du-Lac plane crashed, as told by 3 rescuers

Horrible as Wednesday's airplane crash in Fond-du-Lac was, people in the remote northern Saskatchewan community will have to step foot on another plane sooner or later.

Remote community banded together on the ground and via Facebook to help crash victims

Ivan Adam pulled up to the scene of the plane crash on his Ski-Doo and heard people screaming 3:33

Horrible as Wednesday's airplane crash in Fond-du-Lac was, people in the small northern Saskatchewan community will have to step foot on another plane sooner or later.

"It's a remote area. We've got no choice but to fly," said Joel Isadore, one of the many residents who rushed to the pitch-black scene of the crash on Wednesday shortly after 6 p.m. CST. Twenty-five people were aboard.

Located on the eastern shore of Lake Athabasca — far closer to the border with the Northwest Territories than to southern Saskatchewan centres like Saskatoon or Regina — Fond-du-Lac is accessible by boat during the summer and by a short-windowed ice road to Stony Rapids come winter.

The rest of the year, it's fly-in only.

"Everyone was screaming we're stuck," remembered the lone flight attendant aboard West Winds Aviation's flight 280. It crashed on December 13, 2017, almost immediately after takeoff. Transportation Safety Board investigators later took this photo of the wreckage. (Transportation Safety Board of Canada)
The left passenger door of the aircraft after it crashed shortly in Fond-du-Lac. (Transportation Safety Board of Canada)

"Other than that, you'll be kinda stuck," said Isadore.

"You gotta deal with it," he said of flying post-crash.

But that attitude aptly describes the mindset with which Isadore and other residents automatically raced to the scene of the crash — some guided by wandering passengers who had found their way out of the wreckage, others by the screams of flyers who remained pinned in the plane.

There's no all-weather road to Fond-du-Lac, population 903, according to the 2016 census. (CBC)

'It was very loud'

Ivan Adam lives close to the airport runway. He remembers Wednesday as a foggy day, weather-wise.

The 10-year Canadian Ranger was putting Christmas lights on his home that night when he felt something was wrong.

Canadian Ranger Ivan Adam was putting up Christmas lights on his home near the runway when he heard the plane crash. (CBC)

"As this plane was taking off, it didn't sound right for me," he said. "Then I heard this crash. It was very loud."

Wearing a sweatshirt, Adam jumped over his balcony and took off in his Ski-Doo, telling a companion, "I think there's a plane [that] went crash."

When he was about 15 to 18 metres away from the plane, Adam shined his Ski-Doo's light on the crash site, shouting out "Hello!"

"As soon as I said that, there were people asking for 'Help!'"

Adam was approached by a passenger, who had emerged from the wreckage.

The passenger told him not to light matches because of the jet fuel leaking from the plane.

Adam reached out to a woman on Facebook, asking her to send a message to the wider community asking for medical supplies and blankets.

Ten to 20 minutes later, "there were people already coming in with blankets," said Adam. "We were hauling people back and forth."

Young boy trapped

Over the next hour and half, all of the passengers were rescued from the plane — except for one. A young boy remained jammed in the aircraft.

"He was really pinned," said Isadore, who had reached the crash site using a flashlight on a cellphone. (He can't even remember whose phone it was.)

Raymond Sanger took this lone photo of the crash site. (Raymond Sanger)

Isadore said the boy's mother was trying to calm him down.

"It took them a good two hours to take him out," said Adam. "We had to take a loader out there."

Nurses told Adam and the other rescuers to stop, Adam said. Isadore said the flight attendant told him the same.

"But we couldn't stop," said Adam. "There's people screaming for help."

'Find bolt cutters if you can' 

Fond-du-Lac town councillor Ronnie Augier also went to the crash site.

At around 6:30 p.m., less than 20 minutes after the plane hit the ground, Augier and his son noticed flashing lights on the ground. They had been hauling wood back to town when a volunteer firefighter told them about the accident.

Town councillor Ronnie Augier thanked rescuers "from the bottom of my heart" for their efforts Wednesday night. (CBC)

Augier phoned another councillor who told him, "Find bolt cutters if you can."

All of the plane's passengers made it out alive from the crash, though some with more serious injuries had to be flown more than halfway across the province to places like Saskatoon for care.

'I thank the community members' 

The whole experience was "shocking for the whole community," said Augier on Thursday, not far from where the RCMP had blocked off access to the crash site.

"We never expected and no one was prepared for this sort of event, so it was something really terrifying, horrifying."

But Augier is also grateful that he, Isadore, Adam and many other residents came together quickly in those hours of need.

"I thank the community members — what resources we have — from the bottom of my heart."

The cause of crash is under investigation.

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

Reporter and web writer for CBC Saskatoon

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With files from Charles Hamilton