ST. JOHN’S, N.L.—The RCMP say the daunting size of the remote Labrador lake where a float plane crashed July 15 has complicated an ongoing underwater search for four missing men and the aircraft that was carrying them.
GPS co-ordinates of the downed de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver plane, owned by Quebec airline Air Saguenay, were recorded when Maritime Forces Atlantic left the scene July 16, Cpl. Jolene Garland said.
But since then, the RCMP believes, high winds and heavy rain have caused the plane to drift.
Divers have been searching Mistastin Lake, about 100 kilometres southwest of Nain, since last weekend, but so far only small pieces of debris from the plane have been found.
Garland said Wednesday that divers are grappling with the lake’s 16-kilometre length and extreme depth.
“It’s like the needle in the haystack,” Garland said of the search for the missing plane.
She said the search teams intend to investigate “objects of interest” in the lake with divers and with a remotely operated vehicle that can reach greater depths. But Garland said the search for the objects, identified by side-scanning sonar, can be tricky with such a wide area to cover.
“Even if you did it in quadrants, by the time you’re moving around and rotating your search area, things could’ve drifted or moved from where you first started,” she said.
No end date has been set for the search efforts.
Seven men, including the pilot, were on board the float plane that left Three Rivers Lodge in Labrador to fish on Mistastin Lake.
It didn’t return as planned that evening, sparking the response by Maritime Forces Atlantic, which spotted the tail of the plane and other wreckage floating in the water early on Tuesday.
The bodies of fishing guide Dwayne Winsor of Deer Lake, N.L., guest John Weaver II of Chicago and another 67-year-old man from New Jersey have been recovered so far.
Four men are still missing, including Weaver’s sons John Weaver III and Matthew Weaver, pilot Gilles Morin and another 50-year-old fishing guide from Newfoundland and Labrador.
Authorities have expressed little hope of finding any survivors but Garland said investigators are still working to find some answers in the lake.
“We remain hopeful,” she said.
The cause of the crash is still unknown.
Jean Tremblay, president of Air Saguenay, said Morin was an experienced, safe pilot and that the plane had been inspected this spring.
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada said Monday that investigators plan to visit the site to inspect the plane after it has been located and removed from the water.
A statement from Robin Reeve, managing partner of Three Rivers Lodge, posted on its website commented on the news that “a tragedy has fallen” on the facility, offering condolences to the men’s families.
“It is simply unthinkable that these dear friends are never coming home,” Reeve’s statement read.
Reeve’s statement also commented on the dangers involved in running and visiting a remote lodge.
“We have set the standard for safety and preparedness with communication tools and policies that are far beyond the industry standard,” it read.
“Unfortunately, this way of life is not without the inherent risks that come with the operation of a remote wilderness camp.”