A pilot was killed and seven passengers were injured in a plane crash on Sunday just outside Snow Lake, the community dubbed Manitoba's next northern boom town.
A 911 call was received shortly after 10 a.m. from a passenger aboard the plane saying it had crashed near Snow Lake. The plane was operated by Gogal Air Services of Snow Lake.
The pilot's name was not released by the RCMP; however, people in town said Mark Gogal, 40, son of company owner Larry Gogal, died in the crash.
"Everyone's in shock here," said a man named David, who didn't want his last name used. "It's something we've never dealt with here before. Everyone's very upset."
The plane, a single-engine turboprop Cessna 208 Caravan, which can carry up to 14 people, was departing Snow Lake on its way to Winnipeg. The plane came down in the bush, about two kilometres east of Snow Lake Airport.
The passengers are contractors from Dumas Mine Contracting, who had finished their shift and were looking forward to 10 days off. Dumas is digging a shaft for the new Lalor Mine just outside Snow Lake, 685 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.
RCMP, along with several paramedics and volunteer fire officials, were dispatched to the scene.
A northern contractor, Gerald Strilkiwski, used machinery to clear a path through the bush so emergency vehicles could get to the site.
"They had to cut their way in," said RCMP Staff Sgt. Line Karpish. "The rescue efforts have been very difficult. This is in the middle of nowhere, for all intents and purposes."
The town, with a population of about 800, had just run an emergency-response exercise a few weeks earlier. Deputy mayor Rupert Klyne said dozens of residents raced to the scene on snowmobiles and ATVs.
"With a tragedy like this in Snow Lake, you could count on machines coming from all directions," he said.
Rescuers reached the plane before noon and found one person dead and the seven passengers with serious injuries.
Karpish said a wide range of rescue services were involved, including the Snow Lake fire department, provincial Conservation and Water Stewardship, and RCMP. A Canadian Forces Hercules tried to get to the crash site but could not help. "The weather is very bad. We have a Herc circling around -- he can't land and (search and rescue technicians) can't jump."
Medevac planes were also unable to get in because of overcast skies. Survivors were initially treated at the Snow Lake hospital. Victims were transported by ground ambulance to hospitals at Thompson, Flin Flon and The Pas later in the day.
Snow Lake is two to 21/2 hours from those destinations by road.
The Snow Lake hospital is well-equipped and staffed by Dr. Neil Macleod and several nurses, who were able to stabilize the crash victims but have no operating room. "(Sunday's emergency) would put it close to the top of what (the hospital) could handle," said Mayor Clarence Fisher.
Karpish said Snow Lake has a very small RCMP detachment, so The Pas and Flin Flon Mounties also arrived to help. Snow Lake Airport is about 15 kilometres from town.
Transportation Safety Board of Canada investigator Ross Peden flew to Snow Lake on Sunday afternoon and hoped to be at the scene by evening. "We don't know very much at this time," Peden said.
Fisher said Snow Lake has no regular passenger service to Winnipeg, but Gogal Air Services flies back and forth regularly. "You'll have a fair number of contractors, mining companies, executives coming in," he said.
Gogal also owns Burntwood fly-in fishing and hunting lodge. Larry Gogal runs the business and sons Brad and Mark were its pilots.
The community is in mourning for the Gogal family. "People are obviously pretty sombre," said Fisher.
The Lalor Mine, a zinc, copper and gold project, has begun limited production and is expected to be up to full production by 2015. It will eventually employ 350 people. HudBay Minerals Inc., after one of the biggest ore finds in decades, is spending $700 million to build a new mine and concentrator.
There was no immediate word on where the mining contractors live.
Mining contractors can often be from anywhere in the country. Dumas is an international mine contractor headquartered in Toronto.
Last Wednesday, Free Press business writer Martin Cash and photographer Wayne Glowacki were on the same plane, also piloted by Mark Gogal, on a day trip from Winnipeg to Snow Lake.
The two were guests of Maryann Mihychuk, the former provincial cabinet minister who is now doing economic development work for the Town of Snow Lake, as well as working for Bactech Environmental Corp., a company that is about to embark on a novel process of extracting gold from a decades-old pile of concentrate from past mining activity in Snow Lake.
Mihychuk and Ross Orr, the president and CEO of Bactech, were among those on the flight Wednesday.