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Crash victim had no time to be fearful

Survivor sat beside pilot who died

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As the plane was going down, Guillaume Roby -- sitting next to the pilot in the doomed Cessna 208 -- wasn't afraid.

"No, no fear for me. There wasn't time," the 24-year-old native of Val d'Or, Que., said Sunday night by phone from his hospital bed at Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre. "It was not so high, maybe 200 feet from the ground, when we fell... straight down into the bush."

Roby was one of seven passengers aboard a flight operated by Gogal Air Services that crashed just after takeoff about a kilometre from Snow Lake Airport on Nov. 18.

The men, all miners with Dumas Mine Contracting out of Eastern Canada, had just finished working a 20-day stretch in the northern Manitoba community and were on a charter flight to Winnipeg to catch other flights home.

All seven passengers survived the crash but suffered a variety of injuries.

The pilot, Mark Gogal, 40, of Snow Lake was killed.

Health officials said Thursday that five survivors were still being treated in hospital, but Roby said he believes he and another miner from Saskatoon are the only ones still in hospital.

Roby, the father of a four-year-old son, suffered a broken vertebra in his lower back and underwent surgery Tuesday. He only began sitting upright during the last few days.

A week after the crash his memories of the ordeal are scattered, and he's made little sense of any of it.

"I don't know," Roby said. "The pilot died two feet from me. And I lived.

"It is rare that you see seven survivors and one death. It could have been seven dead and only one survivor."

The flight was scheduled to leave Snow Lake -- approximately 700 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg -- about 7:30 a.m., but heavy fog forced a delay, Roby said, adding he went back to bed for two hours.

When the group reconvened at the tiny airport, Roby chose the seat beside Gogal in the cockpit and, within minutes, the plane headed down the gravel runway.

Although he had flown from the north in the Cessna 208 before, it was not one of his favourite flights.

"...This plane we are always scared because it always looks heavy, it feels heavy," said Roby. "This time it's the same thing, but the nose got in the air.

"Maybe after 40 seconds the pilot tried with the steering and tried to make the plane rise -- and we go right in the bush. It happened so fast you can't think about nothing.

"After that I have no memories... I was unconscious. I was out for maybe 30 minutes and then I woke up and heard my friend yelling in pain. I also heard the people coming in the plane, the rescuers. My friend was moving but I was paralyzed in the cockpit."

RCMP said a 911 call came from a passenger aboard the downed plane and emergency crews were immediately dispatched. But even before paramedics with the Northern Health Region and volunteer firefighters arrived, some local residents used snowmobiles and ATVs to get through the dense forest to the wreckage and care for the passengers.

"There was a guy, I don't know who he was, but he grabbed me by the shoulder and asked me if I was OK. He told me the rescuers were coming and to hold on... that he would stay with us," said Roby. "He was a person from town. He was amazing."

Michel Roby, who flew last Monday from Quebec to Winnipeg with his wife, Louise, to be with their son, said Guillaume has a piece of metal holding his T12 vertebra together.

Guillaume has movement in his arms and legs, but is experiencing some loss of feeling below the knees that doctors hope will improve with time. He could begin going for short walks in the next few days.

He also has a fractured skull and a loss of hearing in his right ear.

"I am sure glad to have him with us," Michel said Sunday. "All we know is that (his recuperation) could take long or it could be fast. He is a really strong kid."

But it could be weeks before he flies home to Val-d'Or.

To the people of Snow Lake, an emotional Michel Roby offered this: "We are really grateful to all the people in Snow Lake that took the time to go on the site of the crash and help.

"I am really proud of them and I want to mention that because although none of the kids were in danger of dying in a short time, it feels good to know they didn't stay there long to suffer."

Peter Hildebrand, regional manager of air investigations with the Transportation Safety Board, said late last week the cause of the crash had not been determined. Parts of the plane still have to be analyzed in Winnipeg and in Ottawa, he said.

Officials with Dumas Mine Contracting visited with Roby and the others in northern hospitals and again after the patients were airlifted to Winnipeg.

Roby said the company paid for family members to fly to Manitoba to be with the survivors.

"They have supported us," he said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 26, 2012 A6

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