Transportation Board of Canada investigators arrived in the remote community of North Spirit Lake First Nation on January 11 and 12 to begin the sad task of determining what caused a Piper PA-31 Navajo to smash into a frozen lake on January 10.
The plane was too small to have a flight-data recorder, and the airport was too small for a control tower, so investigators will have to reconstruct the timeline by other means.
In preliminary findings, the safety board said the plane’s landing gear was down and the wing flaps were partially extended at the time of the crash, and found heavy fire damage in the fuselage and around the right wing. The plane left debris for about the length of a football field, CTV News reported.
Keystone Air flight 213 crashed at around 10 a.m. on January 10, bursting into flames. Nearby residents rushed over and tried to put the fire out with snow, but could not get to the passengers on time.
Employees and officials at flight operator Keystone Air Service Ltd., a charter airline based near Winnipeg, mourned one of their own in pilot Fariborz Abasabady, 41, of Winnipeg, one of four people killed.
Two of the three passengers who died worked for Aboriginal Strategies, a financial-services firm owned by the Tataskweyak Cree Nation that consults on financial administration with First Nations communities. The company lost its president, Ben Van Hoek, 62, and accountant Colette Eisinger, 39. Employee Brian Shead, 36, crawled to safety from the burning wreckage.
Also killed was Martha Campbell, 38, a former health director for Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN), the political advocacy organization for 49 First Nation communities in northern Ontario. She lived in Winnipeg but often returned to North Spirit Lake First Nation, where the crash occurred, to work in the band office, according to media reports.
“The staff of Aboriginal Strategies is deeply feeling the loss of part of our family,” Aboriginal Strategies said in a release on January 11. “We grieve together with their families and extend our deepest condolences. Our sympathies also extend to the family of Martha Campbell, and we extend our gratitude to the many North Spirit Lake community members that assisted with the rescue efforts and with communications with our office during this stressful time. Our condolences also to the family of the pilot and to the Keystone Air staff.”
The company, which had chartered the plane, also said, “We pray for a speedy recovery for our co-worker, Brian Shead, the only survivor of the crash” and thanked its client community for “overwhelming support.”
The 466-member community was reeling from the loss of Campbell, who was described as a tireless worker during her 20-year tenure in the band office. She had relocated to Winnipeg with her family, including two teenagers, while her husband underwent dialysis, The Chronicle Journal reported.
Keewaytinook Okimakanak Community Initiatives (KOCI), a charitable organization that raises money for First Nations endeavors, told The Chronicle Journal that it is accepting donations to help her family and community members with funeral costs and to provide grief counseling.