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Snow Lake 'in shock' after air crash kills pilot, injures seven

Survivors listed in stable condition in hospitals

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SNOW LAKE -- Residents of this northern community remain in shock 24 hours after the fatal plane crash that killed a local pilot and injured seven others.

"The mood in the community is sombre and quiet," Mayor Clarence Fisher said during a noon news briefing. "People are waiting to find out the facts and do whatever we can to support the family (of pilot Mark Gogal)."

Fisher said the town offers its condolences to the families involved in the crash.

"Our thoughts and prayer go out to all of them," Fisher said. "We have full confidence that the community will pull together."

Fisher said the crash was the most serious in the town's history. Gogal was described as a veteran pilot with more than 20 years experience.

The cause of the crash is still not known. An investigator from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada arrived here late Sunday night.

The seven passengers, all adult males, are listed in stable condition in hospitals in Winnipeg and northern Manitoba today.

The plane had just left Snow Lake and was on its way to Winnipeg when it crashed about 10 a.m. Sunday. A passenger on the plane made a 911 call from the wreckage, located in the bush about two kilometres east of the Snow Lake Airport.

The passengers are contractors from Dumas Mine Contracting of eastern Canada. Dumas is digging a shaft for the new Lalor Mine just outside Snow Lake, 685 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.

Fisher said he grew up in Snow Lake with Gogal, adding the pilot and his family are an integral part of the community.

Most local residents declined to speak about the crash, citing respect for the privacy of the Gogal family.

"People are still in shock," Patricia St. Jean, owner of a local diner, said. "They're still waiting for more news."

Dennis St. Jean, Patricia's husband, is a loader operator at the Lalor mine and knew Gogal and all the passengers, who were contract workers at the mine. St. Jean said the workers had just completed a 20-day rotation and were heading to Winnipeg when their plane crashed.

"My heart is still thumping," St. Jean said. "They're all good fellows, hard workers."

Helga Bryant, chief executive officer of the Northern Health Region, said today the seven injured men were initially taken to the Snow Lake Health Centre and then moved to larger hospitals in Flin Flon, The Pas and Thompson.

Four patients were airlifted to Winnipeg overnight, while three remain in northern hospitals.

All are being treated for non-life-threatening injuries, which include broken bones.

Treatment for the patients transferred to Winnipeg might include surgery, Bryant said.

Bryant said the physician, nurses and additional staff at the Snow Lake Health Centre did an outstanding job under trying circumstances.

"(Paramedics) brought the most critical patients first. It’s about a 15-minute drive (to the health centre) and we tried to pace things so we didn’t overwhelm the staff and the little six-bed hospital," she said. "It is a well-equipped trauma hospital room, and they made their way brilliantly through this situation.

"They did their assessments and made good decisions on where to send these patients."

The plane, a Cessna 208 Caravan that can carry up to 14 people, was operated by Gogal Air Services of Snow Lake.

Mark Gogal was the son of company owner Larry Gogal.

Just minutes after the crash, many residents of Snow Lake used their own snowmobiles and ATVs to get to the wreckage and help the eight people aboard.

A northern contractor, Gerald Strilkiwski, used machinery to clear a path through the bush so emergency crews could get to the site.

Bryant said the community really came together to provide assistance.

"Without the community and the resources they brought to bear -- everything from snowmobiles to ATVs to trucks -- it was those means we removed those patients from the plane and got them to where the ambulances were. People were very creative… it was truly a collaborative effort, because there was no way ambulances could traverse (the terrain) to get to the plane.

"Paramedics trekked in to the plane by foot, carrying equipment, to do the initial assessment. Patients were immobilized, removed from the plane and taken to where the ambulances were staged."

Kelly Wiwcharuk, the nurse manager at the Snow Lake Health Centre, said the tiny facility was overwhelmed Sunday morning.

"It was chaos," Wiwcharuk said

The small hospital was notified about the crash shortly after 10 a.m., giving it time to prepare for the victims, who didn't arrive for another two hours.

"Of course, we have an emergency plan but I've never been involved in anything like that."

Wiwcharuk said she had to call in four off-duty nurses to join the one nurse and aide working.

"We only have five nurses in the community."

Wiwcharuk said the nursing staff found the situation difficult, adding they knew all the victims personally.

"In a small town, you know everyone."


- with files from Jason Bell

A Cessna 208 Caravan crashed in Snow Lake on Sunday. Pilot and local resident Mark Gogal died in the crash, and seven passengers were injured.

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Updated on Monday, November 19, 2012 at 12:51 PM CST: Updates from press conference in Snow Lake.

1:27 PM: Updated and images added

2:36 PM: Adds statement from Dumas Mine Contracting.

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