On Nov. 18, amidst heavy fog, extreme humidity, and low cloud ceiling, pilot Mark Gogal and seven passengers left the runway at 10 a.m., destined to Winnipeg. Shortly after, the Cessna 208 mysteriously failed and crashed into the dense forestry surrounding Snow Lake. Gogal died in the accident and the seven passengers, all of which were miners for the nearby Lalor Mine, are currently in stable condition at various hospitals throughout Manitoba.
One of the miners involved in the crash dialed 911 shortly after the crash, signalling a community-wide response. Local residents arrived on snowmobiles and on foot through the thick brush leading to the crash site to assist in the rescue.
Upon hearing the news, contractor Gerald Strilkiwski lent his team and a bulldozer to help in the effort to get to the crash site through the thick forestry. Paramedics reached the site after about an hour and a half, at which point the survivors had to be evacuated strategically by snowmobile to ensure those worse off were given priority.
The community’s concerted response allowed for the quick retrieval and treatment of the miners.
“Snow Lake is a close-knit community. What was impressive was how everybody really came together [ . . . ] Without the help from the people here, we would not have gotten them out in the timely fashion that we did,” RCMP corporal Jason Schalla told the Winnipeg Free Press.
One survivor, Mikael Guénard, was able to call his family from a satellite phone at the scene of the crash. Guénard relayed to his father that the pilot did not survive.
The small hospital in Snow Lake was unprepared to face a crisis of this scale. At the time of the crash, the one nurse and one aid who were working were forced to call the remaining four nurses in the town. The hospital staff had only two hours to prepare for the coming influx of patients who arrived at noon. Even with their best efforts, the hospital contained only six beds, causing two of the injured miners to be treated in the hallway.
“This many patients, and this kind of an accident, you know, I have never been involved in something like that,” said one of the hospital’s managers, Kelly Wiwcharuk, to the CBC.
Most of the injuries included trauma and broken bones, and four of the more seriously injured miners had to be taken by helicopter overnight to Winnipeg. The remaining three were sent for care in Thompson, Flin Flon, and The Pas.
Noted as a veteran pilot of more than 20 years of experience, 40-year-old Mark Gogal was the son of Larry Gogal, who owns Gogal Air Service. Because Snow Lake is remote, roughly 700 km north of Winnipeg, flying is the primary way to travel in and out.
Gogal was well-known throughout the community and his death has deeply affected everyone. Locals have remained quiet out of respect for the family, who has declined questioning.
The cause of the crash is still unknown. The Cessna 208 is being sent to the Transportation Safety Board Lab in Ottawa for analysis.