Search efforts continue for man who fell from train bridge in Pinaymootang First Nation

Search and recovery efforts continue in Pinaymootang First Nation for a man who fell into the icy Fairford River on Sunday.

Dana Letandre, 32, slipped and fell into the icy Fairford river on Sunday night

Dana Letandre, 32, fell from the train bridge in Pinaymootang First Nation on Sunday. (Brandi Woodhouse)

Search and recovery efforts continue in Pinaymootang First Nation for a man who fell into the icy Fairford River on Sunday.

Dana Letandre, 32, fell on Sunday around 9:30 p.m. while walking across an old train bridge in the community about 200 kilometres north of Winnipeg. Police said on Monday he is presumed dead.

Dubbed the "black bridge" by the community, the steel bridge was built by the Canadian National Railway around 1910 as part of a line to serve nearby mines and is no longer used by the company.

John Letandre, Dana's father, said Dana had gone for a walk with his 12-year-old sister Freedom. 

"There's no more trains anymore, but people use it for walking back and forth across the river and it was dark," he said.

Freedom Letandre and her brother Dana Letandre were walking across the train bridge in Pinaymootang on Sunday when he slipped and fell into the river. (Submitted by John Letandre)

Letandre said Freedom was walking a few feet behind her brother when he slipped and fell. He tried to hang onto the bridge and then fell into the water. 

She ran to the nearest house and called her father to tell him what had happened. He rushed to meet his daughter.

"I had a flashlight and we walked up and down the banks, yelling his name," said Letandre.

"It didn't take long, maybe an hour, an hour and a half, before a whole lot of community members were there."

Letandre said his son has two young children, and had just celebrated his three-year-old daughter Charlotte's birthday on Saturday. 

He said his cultural beliefs are helping him deal with the loss of his son.

"What has happened here is that this whole situation, this tragedy, has brought the community together in a good way," said Letandre.

Brandi Woodhouse, a cousin of Dana's, was still out near the river Friday using her ATV to help with the search.

She put a call out on Facebook for help on Thursday, and estimates there have been 70-plus volunteers, including some from neighbouring First Nations Skownan, Little Saskatchewan and Lake St. Martin throughout the week.

"The women have been bringing food every day [for volunteers]," said Woodhouse. 

Volunteers from Pinaymootang and surrounding First Nations have been searching the waters and near the riverbank since Sunday evening. (Brandi Woodhouse)

"People have been donating firewood to us to keep our [sacred] fire burning." 

Woodhouse said that fishermen in the region have also brought their boats to help with the water search and that someone donated hooks to help drag the river.

"It makes you feel good to see your own people coming together. And we're trying to do our best, especially with COVID happening," said Woodhouse.

Chief says RCMP slow to send resources

Leadership in Pinaymootang have expressed disappointment with the RCMP's efforts to help with the search. 

Chief Garnet Woodhouse said police were on scene on Sunday, but didn't send enough resources for the first few days of the search.

"Monday morning, according to the RCMP's plan that never took place, we were waiting for support, physical support," said Garnet Woodhouse. 

"The police finally brought their boat yesterday, Thursday afternoon. Now I hope that they will bring more equipment to take part in the search because the first three days, our community took a stand and did what they could to support the family."

In an emailed statement to CBC News, an RCMP spokesperson said that since Sunday, multiple RCMP units including the Underwater Recovery Team (URT), Marine Search and Rescue (MSAR) and Remote Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) have assisted in the recovery efforts.

Chief Garnet Woodhouse of Pinaymootang First Nation said he appreciates the volunteers from other communities who have helped with the search. (CBC)

The RCMP cited safety concerns for not using divers immediately.

"With the challenging conditions of early winter and semi-frozen ice, this may mean that officers with the specialized unit (URT) cannot immediately conduct an underwater search," the statement said.

"Our URT was in the water on Oct. 27 but were unable to locate and recover the victim."

The RCMP said there are plans to send two amphibious vehicles (Argos) to the area "to aid in the search of the wet ground and low water search areas."

Garnet Woodhouse said he wanted to extend his thanks to the people from Pinaymootang and the surrounding First Nations for helping with the search and coming together to support the family.

He said there have been a number of deaths associated with the "black bridge" over the years — a 22-year-old man died two years ago after falling from it — and he hopes to close it for good.

"I don't want to lose more humans on account of that bridge," he said.

About the Author

Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He is the co-founder of Red Rising Magazine and has been an associate producer with the CBC's Indigenous unit since 2016. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1