WASKADA — It was supposed to be the perfect end to a dream weekend.
On Sunday afternoon, less than a day after being honoured at a Brandon Wheat Kings’ hockey game, Darren Spence, his two sons and the boys’ friend boarded Darren’s private plane for a flight from Waskada to Brandon.
Under freezing fog and icy conditions, the plane didn’t make it five kilometres before crashing into a farmer’s field north of Waskada. The impact killed all four occupants of the plane — Darren, his sons, Gage and Logan and their friend and teammate Dawson Pentecost.
"They were all free spirits," said Jason Ryden, who coached the three boys on their Pierson/Waskada Canucks atom hockey team.
With Darren by their side as a chaperone at the Wheaties game on Saturday, Ryden said the boys got a huge kick out of being shown and introduced on the JumboTron in front of thousands of fans at Westman Place.
"They were all so full of energy, so excited for the game," Ryden said.
Prior to the game, all 12 kids on the team went out for supper together, sporting their Canucks atom hockey jerseys as part of a "team building event."
"We got all the kids together and went to the Pizza Place, and all the kids went into the play structure and had more of a sweat on in there than they did at the hockey game, because they were all together and having a lot of fun," Ryden said.
Yesterday, the team was supposed to host Hartney in a provincial qualifier, but Ryden said the decision was made to cancel the series so they can focus on supporting the two families involved in the crash, and the nine remaining players of the team.
"We want to make sure the kids are OK and see where their minds are because there is a lot of questions to be answered for them and hopefully we can talk through it, but it’s going to take some time to heal from this," Ryden said.
News of the tragedy spread quickly through Waskada, a village of about 200 residents.
"Darren was a great father and good community man," Waskada Mayor Gary Williams said while fighting back tears. "He was a positive upbeat person and any time you had an exchange with him you usually left with a smile on your face."
His boys, Gage, 10, and Logan, 9, were exactly what you’d think two young brothers would be like — happy, outgoing and curious.
"They were active, healthy, and probably a little mischievous. The way you should be at that age," Williams said. "They were all over town and everybody knew who they were and it wasn’t ever hard to remember the Spence boys because they had that infectious grin."
While the Spence family grew up and spent their entire lives in Waskada, Williams said the Pentecost family moved to the village about six years ago from Alberta. Dawson, 9, immediately hit it off with Gage and Logan, almost becoming a third brother.
"He was a little quieter than the other two, but so nice and a good kid," Williams said.
Now, Williams said, the community will try to put the pieces back together.
"It’s the worst thing that can every happen for a parent or a grandparent and it’s both the good part and the bad part of being in a small community — it hits us hard, but we will all reach out and pull together to give these families the support they need to get through this."
At the school, a sign reading "Forever in our hearts Dawson Gage Logan Darren" stood out front, while the Canadian flag flipped in the wind at half-mast.
Counsellors specializing in grief and mental health were at the K-12 school, which has about 90 students, as it attempts to come to grips with losing three of its own.
"It’s catastrophic," Southwest Horizon School Division Supt. Brad Kyle said. "It touches everyone directly or indirectly in some fashion."
While teachers huddled together in the hallway — talking, coping, and trying to make sense of everything — students spoke to counsellors in classrooms. Outside, children walked from the school visibly shaken from the emotional toll of it all.
"The counsellors will be here as long as they need to be, to make sure every one gets the help that they need to get through this," Kyle said.