Wings Magazine

Family rejects military explanation for failed SAR attempt

Feb. 9, 2012, Makkovik, N.L. - The family of a 14-year-old boy whose body was found off the coast of Labrador says poor decisions were made in the search for him and the response to requests for help has to be improved to prevent future tragedies.

February 9, 2012  By The Canadian Press

In a statement, the family says it doesn't understand why a private helicopter was able to fly last Monday and join the search for Burton Winters but the military says the weather prevented them from deploying search and rescue aircraft.

"The civilian helicopter which had first arrived was neither equipped nor capable for a search and rescue situation,'' Rod and Natalie Jacque, the father and stepmother of the boy, say in the statement. "They had only offered to help because search and rescue had not yet arrived.''

A chronology released Friday by the Canadian Forces said the first request for search and rescue assistance came from Newfoundland and Labrador's fire and emergency services last Monday at 9 a.m. The boy's body was found on Wednesday on the frozen Labrador Sea, about 19 kilometres from his abandoned snowmobile and seven kilometres from shore.

Rear Admiral Dave Gardam, the commander of Joint Task Force Atlantic, has said poor visibility and a low ceiling prevented the military from dispatching a chopper from its base in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, N.L., sooner than than it did.


The couple say search and rescue services need to be improved in the province by the Department of National Defence.

"(Burton's) determination to get home outshined any efforts put forward by the DND. We cannot stand for this lack of service to continue in Newfoundland and Labrador,'' the statement says.

"This is the time for someone to step up and take responsibility in poor decision making to ensure that this doesn't happen to another innocent family.''

The boy's father declined an interview request on Sunday.

"Our family is now, and forever will be, incomplete because of someone else's failure to do their job. Our son, Burton, will never come home to us,'' the family statement says.

The Defence Department didn't provide an immediate response to the family's statement.

Winters was reported missing on Jan. 29 at 7:30 p.m., six hours after he left home in Makkovik for his grandmother's house.

A Universal helicopter based in Happy Valley-Goose Bay arrived to help with the search for Winters the next day on Monday afternoon, about three hours after search and rescue was contacted.

On Tuesday at around 9:30 a.m., the RCMP changed the status of the search to a recovery effort based on a suspicion that the boy and the snowmobile fell through the ice, the military chronology says.

But around 3:30 p.m., the snowmobile was located and the military was called again for help about an hour later. At about 7:30 p.m., the military deployed a CH-146 Griffon helicopter from Happy Valley-Goose Bay and it arrived about an hour later.

Federal and provincial politicians in Newfoundland and Labrador have also raised questions about the military's response to the search.

The chief of the defence staff has ordered an investigation into the military's response.

Newfoundland MP Jack Harris said Friday the military's explanation didn't provide all the answers he is looking for and the timeline raises more questions than it answers.

Labrador's Inuit government also issued a statement, saying Winters's death was a tragedy that could have been prevented.


Stories continue below