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Winnipeg pilot among five dead in plane crash at Red Lake

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RED LAKE, Ont. — A Winnipeg man who survived a plane crash that killed five others in northwestern Ontario on Sunday managed to pull a woman to safety before flames engulfed the aircraft, provincial police said Monday.

The Bearskin Airlines plane went down just after 6:30 p.m. local time on approach to the Red Lake airport, about 500 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay, Ontario Provincial Police said.

The twin-engine turboprop, which was arriving from Sioux Lookout, Ont., burst into flames when it hit the ground, and only two people survived, police said.

The two pilots — Peter Traczuk, 34, of Winnipeg, and a 25-year-old man from Mississauga, Ont., — were among those killed, police said.

Three passengers — a 53-year-old woman, a 53-year-old man and a 64-year-old woman, all from Red Lake — were also killed, but police did not release their names.

The survivors were identified as a 29-year-old man and a 50-year-old woman, both from Winnipeg.

The family of Traczuk, the Winnipeg pilot killed in the crash, declined to comment. A woman who answered the phone at the home of the married father of three asked that their privacy be respected at this time.

An OPP spokesman said the Winnipeg man who survived the crash made the emergency call.

"The one male was actually the one that called us to report the crash," said Sgt. Rob McDonough at the provincial police communications centre in Thunder Bay.

"He was able to pull the woman out of the wreckage prior to it becoming fully engulfed in flames."

The two were taken by ambulance to hospital where McDonough said they were treated for non-life-threatening injuries. He noted the man was able to walk to the ambulance, while the woman appeared to have suffered a back injury.

Paul Chatelain, CEO of the Red Lake Margaret Cochenour Memorial Hospital, said both survivors are in stable condition but "pretty shaken up right now."

He said the two Winnipeggers have asked for privacy at this time.

The tragedy has left the community of roughly 4,600 people with "extremely heavy hearts," said Red Lake Mayor Phil Vinet.

"We are pretty tight-knit, for residents and visitors alike, so when something does happen, it affects all of us," he said.

"With us being a small town, it is an extremely tragic event. In my life, I don't recall anything like it. The community will be devastated."

The plane had taken off from Sioux Lookout on a flight to Red Lake, 270 kilometres north of Kenora, and about 100 kilometres east of the Manitoba boundary.

McDonough said the 19-seat aircraft knocked down some hydro lines during the crash.

"The plane was totally destroyed by the flames," he said. "Upon impact it burst into flames and then set bush around it on fire as well."

A local fire crew quickly doused the flames in both the plane and the woods, he added.

Provincial police issued a release early Monday, saying the names of the deceased would be released after their next of kin were notified.

There's no word yet on the cause of the crash, but McDonough said Transportation Safety Board investigators from Winnipeg were expected to arrive at the site Monday afternoon.

Once they arrive at the site, investigators will examine "all aspects of the aircraft," including the structure, controls, engines, propeller and landing gear, to see if "any of it could be related to the accident that happened," said TSB spokesman Peter Hildebrand.

There were light clouds and moderate winds out of the northwest around the time of the crash, as well as some snow showers, "but not anything severe in terms of this time of year," he said.

Transport Minister Lisa Raitt expressed her condolences on Twitter.

"My thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by the tragic air accident near Red Lake last evening. Thank you to first responders," she wrote.

Bearskin Airlines is based in Sioux Lookout and has operated since 1963, employing 300 people in Ontario and Manitoba.

Its fleet of 16 Fairchild Metro planes serve 18 destinations in the two provinces.

In May 1995, a Bearskin aircraft collided with a Piper Navajo near the Sioux Lookout airport, killing all eight people on board the two planes.

— The Canadian Press, with files from the Winnipeg Free Press

History

Updated on Monday, November 11, 2013 at 6:10 PM CST: adds comment from Winnipeg pilot's family

7:43 PM: adds video

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