As North Spirit Lake First Nation members mourned four killed in a plane crash on their remote northern Ontario reserve, aboriginals nationwide grieved with them.
The Piper PA-31 Navajo was carrying four passengers and a pilot when it smashed onto a frozen lake and burst into flame near some houses on the reserve. First on the scene were residents, who tried to douse the fire with snow but could not get to those trapped inside on time.
The dead included the daughter and grandson of the school’s kindergarten teacher, who were returning home from Winnipeg, where the flight originated. The pilot was also killed.
The one survivor, Brian Shead, was in the back of the plane and was able to crawl from the burning wreckage to safety, his wife told CBC News.
He and the other passengers worked for Aboriginal Strategies, a Winnipeg-based financial-management firm whose clientele is First Nations.
“Everybody is devastated here,” school principal Eric Feldman told CTV News.
The Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba was also reeling, having lost member Colette Eisinger in the crash. Eisinger was originally from there but lived in Winnipeg, Chief Donovan Fontaine told CBC News, adding that she was related to two of his employees.
Ben van Hoek, a financial manager with Aboriginal Strategies, was killed on the flight as well.
The third passenger’s name was not released. Manitoba-based charter airline Keystone Air Service Ltd., which operated the flight, had not commented by Wednesday morning.
Aboriginal leaders across Canada issued condolences.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and the community of North Spirit Lake First Nation who are dealing with this terrible tragedy,” said Grand Chief Patrick Madahbee of the Union of Ontario Indians, the political advocacy group for 39 member communities across Ontario, in a statement.
Similar sentiments came from the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians (AIAI).
“Such events have an even greater impact on First Nation communities, given their size and connectedness,” the AIAI said in a statement.
Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Grand Chief Stan Beardy said, “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the pilot, passengers and all the members of North Spirit Lake First Nation who are dealing with this sudden and very terrible tragedy…. It is yet another unfortunate reminder of the perils faced by many First Nations and other travelers who depend on air transportation as their lifeline between northern and remote communities and major urban centers.”