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Plane crash tragedy hard on 'close-knit' Waskada

Logan, left, and Gage Spence.

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Logan, left, and Gage Spence. (FACEBOOK)

The town of Waskada is mourning the death of a local pilot, the man’s two sons and another boy who was a family friend, all killed in a plane crash Sunday near the southwestern Manitoba community.

RCMP confirmed today the 37 year-old pilot, his sons, ages nine and 10, and another nine-year-old boy died in the crash.

While the RCMP has not identified the victims, residents say pilot Darren Spence and his sons Gage, 10, and Logan, 9, were killed in the crash.

Another nine-year-old boy, Dawson Pentecost, also died, according to residents.

The three boys are students of Waskada School, and a sign outside the building this morning said: 'Forever in our hearts Dawson Gage Logan Darren.’

Initial reports indicate the plane left from a private airfield at about 1 p.m, and was reported overdue two hours later.

The downed aircraft was spotted at around 7 p.m. yesterday, about a kilometre from where it had taken off. The crash scene is reported to be in an open field.

Waskada is about 300 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg near the Saskatchewan and North Dakota borders.

Darren Spence was involved in a family crop-spraying business. But it's believed he had taken the boys on a pleasure flight Sunday afternoon aboard a Cessna 210. By 6 p.m., RCMP were notified the plane was overdue.

The plane was found with the help of Canadian Forces search and rescue technicians, according to RCMP from the Killarney detachment.

"It’s a pretty rough day around here," said the man this morning. He had known Spence for about six years, mostly through work at a chemical company that supplied the mixture for crop dusting.

The man, who did not want his name used, said Spence was always friendly, taking time to make others feel at ease with a kind word or friendly smile.

Meanwhile, a spokesman with the 17 Wing air base in Winnipeg confirmed search and rescue technicians from 435 Squadron parachuted to the crash scene.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has a team of investigators heading to the site of an accident this morning involving the Cessna 210.

Counsellors specializing in grief and mental health are at the ready at Waskada School as it attempts to come to grips with losing three of its own.

The counsellors were in place by 8 a.m. today as children in the K-12 school arrive for the day.

"We’re fielding calls from parents who have just informed their children (about the plane crash). The school is open as a counselling service right now. It may be like that for the rest of the week," said Brian Spurrill, secretary treasurer with Southwest Horizon School Division.

He said losing three young boys, one each in Grade 4, 5 and 6, is tragic both for the community and the school division.

"It’s all very new for us. We certainly haven’t dealt with anything of this magnitude before," he said. "It’s a very close-knit community a great community school. Our hearts go out to the parents of the one family and to the grandparents of the other family."

Late Sunday night, Waskada Mayor Gary Williams said news of the horrific crash was just beginning to spread.

"It's going to be tough," he said. "... once Monday comes and people start their normal day, their normal routines, it's going to be a real shock.

"(The boys) went to a small school, and every kid sees the other kids every day," he said, adding the family is well known in the community.

The crash scene is about 10 kilometres north of Waskada.

The town is located about 300 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg near the Saskatchewan and North Dakota borders.

According to a spokesman with the Transportation Safety Board, there was a more than five-hour delay from when the aircraft first sent out an emergency locator transmitter signal and when the wreckage was finally found.

Peter Hildebrand, regional manager of the TSB’s central region, said the signal started at 1:17 p.m. on Sunday but because it was an older model and didn’t carry any information about the owner, investigators had to verify that the signal wasn’t malfunctioning.

After the delay, the Air Force sent out a C-130 to investigate. It discovered the downed Cessna 210-C "around 6 or 7 p.m." about 10 kilometres north of town.

Hildebrand said the signal, referred to as an "ELT" in industry parlance, can be activated in the air by the pilot but it is most commonly set off upon impacting the ground.

"It has an impact switch, which sends out the signal automatically. What happened here, Hildebrand said it’s too early to tell if weather was a factor, but he did acknowledge that it was cloudy and snowing at the time of the crash.

"There are a lot of possibilities. We don’t really have anything (specific) that we’re honing in on right now. We have weather information from Brandon but we’re going to have to get more detailed information from other sources. Weather is one of the things being looked at," he said.

Once activated, the signal is picked up via satellite by the Air Force rescue coordination centre in Trenton, Ont., which then relays the details to local authorities.

"We don’t know," Hildebrand said.

The length of the TSB investigation will depend largely on what they find. Hildebrand cautioned that they don’t always do full investigations on accidents involving private aircraft.

"What we’re looking for is to advance transportation safety. With a private aircraft, there is less risk to the travelling public. Technical issues and issues of operational control, those are more for commercial (aircraft). Sometimes the facts are very clear and further investigation wouldn’t bring about any improvement to the transportation system," he said.

The Cessna 210 Centurion is a six-seat, high-performance, retractable-gear single-engine general aviation aircraft which was first flown in January 1957 and produced by Cessna until 1985.

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