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Plane crash tragedy hard on 'close-knit' Waskada

Man, three boys killed in southwestern Manitoba

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An investigation is underway into the plane crash near Waskada that killed as many people Sunday as all the deadly flights in Manitoba last year.

The wreckage was strewn over a large stretch of farmer’s field in southwestern Manitoba, said Peter Hildebrand, regional manager with the Transportation Safety Board.

RCMP confirmed today the 37 year-old pilot, his sons, ages nine and 10, and another nine-year-old boy died in the crash.

While the RCMP have not identified the victims, residents said the victims were pilot Darren Spence and his sons Gage, 10, and Logan, 9, as well as another nine-year-old boy, Dawson Pentecost, who was a family friend.

The downed aircraft was spotted at around 7 p.m. yesterday. The crash scene is reported to be in an open field about 10 kilometres north of Waskada, which itself is located 300 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg near the Saskatchewan and North Dakota borders.

Crash investigators will be looking at the 1963 plane’s maintenance records, the pilot, and weather conditions, Hildebrand said.

"The pilot was reported to have a valid licence and medical certificate," said Hildebrand. It isn’t yet known whether the "relatively young" pilot had "instrumentation rating" and could operate the plane using instruments if visibility was limited, he said.

Hildebrand said there was 1.2 kilometres visibility at the time, with a 600-foot cloud ceiling light mist, freezing fog and icing conditions.

The plane’s emergency locator went off 17 minutes after the plane departed, likely on impact. The wreckage was found almost five kilometres from the point of departure, a private air strip near Waskada.

The plane was en route to Brandon, said Hildebrand, who would not release any details about the crash victims. Their job is to find out what happened -- and if the crash was preventable, how to try and make sure such an accident doesn’t happen again, he said.

"This is obviously a tragedy," Hildebrand said.

In all of 2012, four people died in three fatal airplane crashes in Manitoba. This one fatal accident has already matched that.

"It must be devastating for the people who knew them," he said. "It affects everybody."

Pleasure flight reported overdue

Darren Spence was involved in a family crop-spraying business. But it's believed he had taken the boys on a pleasure flight Sunday afternoon aboard a Cessna 210. By 6 p.m., RCMP were notified the plane was overdue.

The plane was found with the help of Canadian Forces search and rescue technicians, according to RCMP from the Killarney detachment.

"It’s a pretty rough day around here," said one man in the community this morning. He had known Spence for about six years, mostly through work at a chemical company that supplied the mixture for crop dusting.

The man, who did not want his name used, said Spence was always friendly, taking time to make others feel at ease with a kind word or friendly smile.

Meanwhile, a spokesman with the 17 Wing air base in Winnipeg confirmed search and rescue technicians from 435 Squadron from Winnipeg parachuted to the crash scene.

Family well-known in close-knit community

Residents in the small community of Waskada are stunned and in mourning.

The three boys are students of Waskada School, and a sign outside the building this morning said: 'Forever in our hearts Dawson Gage Logan Darren.'

Counsellors specializing in grief and mental health are at the ready at Waskada School as it attempts to come to grips with losing three of its own. The counsellors were in place by 8 a.m. today, as children in the K-12 school arrived for the day.

"We’re fielding calls from parents who have just informed their children (about the plane crash). The school is open as a counselling service right now. It may be like that for the rest of the week," said Brian Spurrill, secretary treasurer with Southwest Horizon School Division.

He said losing three young boys, one each in Grade 4, 5 and 6, is tragic both for the community and the school division.

"It’s all very new for us. We certainly haven’t dealt with anything of this magnitude before," he said. "It’s a very close-knit community, a great community school. Our hearts go out to the parents of the one family and to the grandparents of the other family."

Late Sunday night, Waskada Mayor Gary Williams said news of the horrific crash was just beginning to spread.

"It's going to be tough," he said. "... once Monday comes and people start their normal day, their normal routines, it's going to be a real shock.

"(The boys) went to a small school, and every kid sees the other kids every day," he said, adding the family is well known in the community.

Five-hour delay from emergency signal

According to a spokesman with the Transportation Safety Board, there was a more than five-hour delay from when the aircraft first sent out an emergency locator transmitter signal and when the wreckage was finally found.

Peter Hildebrand, regional manager of the TSB’s central region, said the signal started at 1:17 p.m. on Sunday but because it was an older model and didn’t carry any information about the owner, investigators had to verify that the signal wasn’t malfunctioning.

After the delay, the Air Force sent out a C-130 to investigate. It discovered the downed Cessna 210-C "around 6 or 7 p.m." about 10 kilometres north of town.

Hildebrand said the signal, referred to as an "ELT" in industry parlance, can be activated in the air by the pilot but it is most commonly set off upon impacting the ground.

"It has an impact switch, which sends out the signal automatically. What happened here, we don’t know," Hildebrand said.

Once activated, the signal is picked up via satellite by the Air Force rescue coordination centre in Trenton, Ont., which then relays the details to local authorities.

The length of the TSB investigation will depend largely on what they find. Hildebrand cautioned that they don’t always do full investigations on accidents involving private aircraft.

"What we’re looking for is to advance transportation safety. With a private aircraft, there is less risk to the travelling public. Technical issues and issues of operational control, those are more for commercial (aircraft). Sometimes the facts are very clear and further investigation wouldn’t bring about any improvement to the transportation system," he said.

The Cessna 210 Centurion is a six-seat, high-performance, retractable-gear single-engine general aviation aircraft which was first flown in January 1957 and produced by Cessna until 1985.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca


View Waskada plane crash in a larger map

Peter Hildebrand, regional manager of the Transportation Safety Board's central region at TSB office Winnipeg.

History

Updated on Sunday, February 10, 2013 at 11:59 PM CST: adds quotes, information on victims

February 11, 2013 at 8:08 AM: Updated with more information.

9:13 AM: Updates with TSB comments

9:38 AM: Updates with ages of victims, and comment from school division.

12:22 PM: Fixes quote, picture added.

2:49 PM: adds video TSB update

3:12 PM: Adds subheads.

4:06 PM: Adds information from TSB.

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