WASKADA — Nine-year-old Dawson Pentecost was hanging out with his two closest friends, buddies on his hockey team on Sunday when they asked him if he wanted to go for a plane ride with their dad.
Dawson had never been on a plane before and he phoned his own father to make sure it was OK.
Dave Pentecost knew the pilot well. Darren Spence, was an experienced crop-dusting pilot in the small town of Waskada and if he was going to trust his son with anyone in the air, it would be Spence.
But later Sunday afternoon, Pentecost, a construction worker and volunteer firefighter, got a message on his pager that a plane had gone down.
He rushed out on snowmobile to a field outside of town and was one of the first to find the wreckage.
He fell to his knees and cried. Everyone on board the plane — Dawson, his friends Gage, 10, and Logan, 9, and their dad, Spence — was dead.
When Pentecost got himself together, he called his wife.
"The plane was in pieces — nothing left," said Pentecost’s oldest child, 15-year old Talis Taylor-Meszaros.
The teen said Monday his parents are so distraught by his brother’s death, they have asked him to act as family spokesperson and talk about what happened and how they don’t blame the pilot.
"It’s not his fault," Talis said. "It wasn’t Darren who did it. It was totally the plane’s fault ... He’d never do anything, especially with his kids there and especially with someone else’s kid there."
Investigators confirmed the six-seater Cessna 210 left a private airstrip near Waskada on Sunday and was scheduled to fly 110 kilometres northeast to Brandon.
When the plane’s emergency beacon went off, a military search-and-rescue plane from Winnipeg was dispatched to the crash site about five kilometres from the same airstrip. A crew parachuted down, but there was no one to save.
Peter Hildebrand, regional manager for the Transportation Safety Board, said it wasn’t yet clear why the plane crashed.
The single-engine plane was so severely damaged that investigators couldn’t determine if its landing gear was down, he said.
Investigators were looking into both the mechanics of the plane and the weather. Hildebrand said there were low clouds, some fog and snow.
He said investigators were expected to be at the site again yesterday.
"There’s no question. It’s not pilot error," said Terry Linto, one of Spence’s close friends. "It’s got to be mechanical."
He stressed that Spence always put safety first. The 37-year-old Spence grew up flying with his family. His father, Edward, was a spray pilot for about 50 years.
The elder Spence recently had a stroke, said Linto, and relatives are worried that the death of his only son and two grandsons will affect his health.
Linto said Spence’s passion for flying was matched by his love for his children. He said the single dad raised his boys and also had a young daughter at home. "You wouldn’t have found a better father and more giving person than Darren."
Spence built his boys their own dirt-bike racing track on the farm, drove them to hockey practice and, on some weekends, took them up in the air for a ride.
"After a weekend, it was a treat to take the kids flying and they would just go and look over the countryside," Linto said. "The kids loved it."
Meanwhile, a fund has been set up to cover the funeral costs for Dawson, CBC reported yesterday.
Cheques for the Pentecost family can be made out to the Village of Waskada, postal code R0M 2E0.
The Village of Waskada has also set up a special fund in honour of the three young boys killed in Sunday’s plane crash.
Village CAO Diane Woodworth told CJOB radio that money donated will be used to help send other kids in the community to summer hockey camps.
Woodworth says donations can be dropped off at or mailed to the Waskada Athletic Club.
» The Canadian Press