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Investigators probe a spate of crashes

Looking for possible link between recent fatal airplane trips

Four fatal air crashes in less than a year in Manitoba has investigators wanting to see if there is some type of link between them.

Peter Hildebrand, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada's regional director, said Tuesday the latest tragic crash, which killed an adult and three children in southwestern Manitoba on Sunday, has everyone wanting to get more answers on it and other recent crashes.

"Our mandate is to advance transportation safety so if that's our mandate we want to do something about that," Hildebrand said.

"We want to see if there is something out there that has changed. I don't know the answers now, but at the outset of our investigation you don't rule out anything."

Darren Spence, 37, a crop duster based in southwestern Manitoba, was at the controls of the plane when it crashed just outside of Waskada on Sunday, killing him, his sons, 10-year-old Gage and nine-year-old Logan, and a friend of the boys, nine-year-old Dawson Pentecost.

Hildebrand said investigators have to thaw out some of the plane's equipment before they can begin to examine it.

"I know already there doesn't seem to be some sort of link, but the numbers are enough to cause us to look at what's happening," he said.

"Who knows what we might find?"

Al Graham, an 81-year-old pilot from Gimli, was flying his float plane to his remote cabin at Kapekun Lake when he crashed into the lake in May 2012. His body was later recovered.

Gilbert Bourrier, 64, and Tony Butt, 48, both of Winnipeg, were killed in a plane crash near the town of Manitou in southwestern Manitoba in August 2012. The two men were taking off in a two-seat, open-cockpit biplane bound for Winnipeg when it crashed into the community lagoon.

Pilot Mark Gogal died and seven passengers were injured when a Cessna 208 crashed near the Snow Lake airport in November 2012.

Hildebrand said there was one fatal airplane crash in Manitoba in 2010 and another in 2011, but last year there were three and this year already there has been one.

"Maybe it is a statistical blip, but we will look into it," he said.

Hildebrand said once the TSB investigation is complete, they will be send a report to Transport Canada.

Brian Williamson, a Transport Canada spokesman, said in a statement the country's aviation authority "takes all transportation accidents seriously and we are co-operating fully with the Transportation Safety Board in its investigation."

Transport Canada documents show the plane Spence was flying, a six-seater Cessna 210 built in 1963, had been registered by a Virden-based crop-dusting company one month before the crash after being transferred from a Saskatchewan crop-dusting company.

Two funds have been set up in Waskada in the wake of the air crash: The Dawson Pentecost funeral fund, and the Gage, Logan and Dawson Scholarship Fund.

Diane Woodworth, the village's municipal administrator, said one of the funds is to help defray the costs of a kid going to summer hockey camp, while the other is to help shoulder the cost of one of the boy's funeral.

Woodworth said donations can be made at any branch of the Sunrise Credit Union or cheques can be mailed to the Village of Waskada's municipal office, Waskada, MB, R0M 2E0. Cheques for the funeral fund should be made out to the Village of Waskada with funeral fund in the memo line, while donations for the scholarship fund should be made out to the Waskada Athletic Club.

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