The head of the Nunatsiavut government is troubled by the military’s reason for not sending a helicopter to look for a missing Makkovik teen sooner than it did.
Burton Winters, 14, was reported missing on the evening of Jan. 29, and his body was found three days later on the sea ice about 19 kilometres from his abandoned snowmobile.
The Canadian Forces didn’t send a chopper until two days after Burton went missing. Officials have said the weather on
Jan. 30 was unsuitable to deploy a helicopter.
That doesn’t sit well with Jim Lyall.
“I always presumed those (military) aircraft were equipped to fly in bad weather,” the Nunatsiavut president said Monday.
He said he finds the military’s reason particularly troubling because a private helicopter out of Happy Valley-Goose Bay searched for Winters Jan. 30.
Lyall’s government is now calling for a permanent search and rescue unit in Labrador. It believes Winters might still be alive if the response time was quicker.
Nunatsiavut’s call is the latest criticism of the military’s response to the tragedy. Politicians and Winters’ family have voiced concerns and called for improved search and rescue operations.
An investigation into the military’s response has been ordered. Lyall looks forward to the findings, and hopes bad weather isn’t among them.
“They’d better come up with better reasons than that,” he said, noting he wants to speak with National Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Peter Penashue, the MP for Labrador and minister of Intergovernmental Affairs.
Contacted about Nunatsiavut’s call for a search and rescue unit in Labrador, Penashue said in email he believed the priority now should be mourning the loss of a young man.
“I know the minister of National Defence has been quite clear on this issue. He has asked his department to look into it and we’ll await the results,” he stated.
The provincial New Democrats also expressed concerns about search and rescue Monday. Leader Lorraine Michael said Winters’ death revealed a serious flaw in the service. She hoped the investigation leads to recommendations that force Ottawa to take search and rescue in Newfoundland and Labrador more seriously.
It’s awful to have to use a teen’s death to raise the issue, she said in an interview.
“What happened was completely unacceptable. For our public search and rescue operation to not turn up immediately in this kind of a situation is just not acceptable.”
Michael also called for more action from the provincial government. She said she hasn’t heard the ruling Tories speak out strongly against Ottawa’s closure of the Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre in St. John’s or about search and rescue response times.
“I just don’t hear their voice being there in any kind of loud way, and it seems to me if ... the province was meeting with the federal government on this issue, they’d be happy enough to tell us,” she said.
Both Premier Kathy Dunderdale and Fisheries Minister Darin King were out of the province Monday and unavailable for comment.
King may be available Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Lyall, who lives in Nain, noted people up and down the Labrador coast were affected by Winters’ death.
He said there are questions that may never be answered about the tragedy, but steps have to be taken ensure it doesn’t happen again.
“My heart goes out to Makkovik,” he said.
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