An investigation is underway into the plane crash near Waskada that killed as many people Sunday as all the deadly flights in Manitoba last year.
The wreckage was strewn over a large stretch of farmer’s field in southwestern Manitoba, said Peter Hildebrand, regional manager with the Transportation Safety Board.
RCMP confirmed Monday the 37 year-old pilot, his sons, ages nine and 10, and another nine-year-old boy died in the crash.
While the RCMP have not identified the victims, residents said the victims were pilot Darren Spence and his sons Gage, 10, and Logan, 9, as well as another nine-year-old boy, Dawson Pentecost, who was a family friend.
The downed aircraft was spotted at around 7 p.m. on Sunday. The crash scene is reported to be in an open field about 10 kilometres north of Waskada, which itself is located 130 kilometres southwest of Brandon near the Saskatchewan and North Dakota borders.
Crash investigators will be looking at the 1963 plane’s maintenance records, the pilot, and weather conditions, Hildebrand said.
"The pilot was reported to have a valid licence and medical certificate," said Hildebrand. It isn’t yet known whether the "relatively young" pilot had "instrumentation rating" and could operate the plane using instruments if visibility was limited, he said.
Hildebrand said there was 1.2 kilometres visibility at the time, with a 600-foot cloud ceiling light mist, freezing fog and icing conditions.
The plane’s emergency locator went off 17 minutes after the plane departed, likely on impact. The wreckage was found almost five kilometres from the point of departure, a private air strip near Waskada.
The plane was en route to Brandon, said Hildebrand. Their job is to find out what happened — and if the crash was preventable, how to try to make sure such an accident doesn’t happen again, he said.
"This is obviously a tragedy," Hildebrand said.
In all of 2012, four people died in three fatal airplane crashes in Manitoba. This one fatal accident has already matched that.
"It must be devastating for the people who knew them," he said. "It affects everybody."
Pleasure flight reported overdue
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 one man in the community on Monday. 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 from Winnipeg parachuted to the crash scene.
Five-hour delay from emergency signal
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.
Hildebrand 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, we don’t know," Hildebrand said.
Once activated, the signal is picked up via satellite by the Air Force rescue co-ordination centre in Trenton, Ont., which then relays the details to local authorities.
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.
» Winnipeg Free Press, with files from Carol Sanders and Alexandra Paul