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Five killed as plane crashes

-- Winnipeg pilot among the dead -- Survivor rescues fellow passenger

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RED LAKE, ONT. -- Five tragic deaths, a community in shock, smouldering wreckage and bravery in the face of what must have been incredible fear.

These things are among what remains in this small mining town after a devastating plane crash Sunday evening killed five -- including a pilot from Winnipeg.

"The community is hit hard -- and we're all trying to deal with it," Ontario Provincial Police Const. David Lamme said Monday at the crash site, just east of the Red Lake Airport.

Metres from where Lamme spoke, down an embankment off one of Red Lake's main roads, lay a heap of charred rubble that was once a Bearskin Airlines plane.

The 19-seat aircraft crashed and came to rest in a section of dense brush just after 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

The twin-engine turboprop was coming in for a landing following a short flight from Sioux Lookout when something went wrong.

It burst into flames when it collided with the ground, said police. Only two of seven on board survived.

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

'The community is hit hard -- and we're all trying to deal with it'

-- OPP Const. David Lamme

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

Three other passengers -- a 53-year-old woman, a 53-year-old man and a 64-year-old woman, all hailing from Red Lake -- also died.

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.

It was the man who survived who called 911 to summon help. He also rescued the surviving woman before the plane was engulfed by fire.

The man was able to walk to the ambulance, which rushed to the scene, while the woman may have suffered a back injury, police said.

Neither of the survivors wished to speak with media who came to the remote northwestern Ontario community Monday, including the Free Press.

"They're stable and they're going back to Winnipeg, hopefully today. They're pretty shaken up, though. That's all I can say," said Paul Chatelain, president and CEO of the Red Lake Margaret Cochenour Memorial Hospital.

A three-member team from the federal Transportation Safety Board arrived in Red Lake Monday afternoon from Winnipeg and was starting to walk around the crash site and begin assessing it.

It could take some time to determine with certainty what happened, but initial indications are the aircraft sustained a mechanical failure, TSB investigator Ross Peden said.

Peden had just spoken to the man who survived, but said at that moment, the survivor's recollection of what happened was "fairly vague."

"He did confirm that there was some sort of an issue with one of the airplane's engines," said Peden.

The man was seated in the back of the plane and escaped by using an over-wing emergency exit.

"He was able to walk. And he helped the other survivor get out of the aircraft," Peden said.

"He's in quite good condition for a person who has been through what he's been through," said Peden.

Where a person is sitting when a plane crash happens and how the vehicle strikes the ground are often key factors in whether they're able to walk away, he said.

Red Lake Mayor Phil Vinet said Monday morning he had not heard the names of those who were killed.

But he said the entire town of about 4,500 residents will be affected.

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

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

Its fleet of 16 Fairchild Metroliner planes serves 18 destinations in the two provinces.


-- with files from The Canadian Press, Carol Sanders and Jason Bell

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 12, 2013 A3

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