Concern grows about response by military to Labrador tragedy

Steve Bartlett
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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. Twitter: @SteveBartlett_

Organizations: Canadian Forces, National Defence, Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Makkovik, Happy Valley Goose Bay Ottawa Nain

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Recent comments

  • Matilda
    February 11, 2012 - 16:02

    Together as a province we absolutely have to take a stand now and make damn sure this does not have to happen to another human being. It is mind boggling and heart breaking to think that an innocent child's life has ended much before his time and it looks more and more as a result of neglect. Honestly though, how can someone live with themselves, look in the mirror knowing that done differently this family could still have their son with them. If they have children , how can they look at their child and not think of Burton? How will they ever answer to this. They can't , nothing that they can do now will bring this young man back to his family and friends... As a province, a community we have to come together now and support the family in their actions to see that justice is brought to this tragedy. Get on it Newfoundland and Labrador! We are talking about a child's life, a child... God help them see, this has to be not only investigated but actions of all means have to be taken to see that this DO NOT happen again. RIP Burton and may your family find strength in knowing we stand with them.

  • Brainsack
    February 08, 2012 - 11:51

    Very unfortunate tragedy. Military SAR resources are not appropriately distributed. But alas, it's the same with alot of the military resources across the country. The military has been given/taken on tasks for which they are underfunded for a nation this size. An investigation might help redistribute, but unlikely to happen. Maybe if provinces/territories feel they are underserved by federal resources, they should look into creating their own SAR assets.....I mean for the good of their populations. Oh yes, don't let the feds off the hook for SAR just ask for more federal infastructure funding, and use if to hire/create your own SAR assets.

  • Anna
    February 07, 2012 - 14:09

    Yes David, just as Mr. Williams as Premier acted in a mature responsible manner but we are getting off the topic, this is all about the poor young man who died needlessly.

  • Wendy
    February 07, 2012 - 13:19

    When Peter MacKay gets the final results of his Department''s investigation, the family or public will never find out what really heppened because he'll just give them/us the "run-around", like he did when he used a SAR helicopter for his personal fishing trip.

  • Marg
    February 07, 2012 - 12:47

    It's an utter insult to people's intelligence to think that most of us would believe it was the weather that caused almost a two day delay for SAR to get off the ground to start the search for this young teenager. A private helicopter was in the air, for heaven's sake. It's not SOMETHING (such as the weather) that resulted in this horrible death, but SOMEONE. You're darn right that an investigation needs to be done.

  • David
    February 07, 2012 - 11:36

    oh anna, oh anna, oh anna... you pool soul. give the bully (steven) his way and everything will be ok. when your elected as Prime Minister you have to act in a mature, responsible manner not look for ways to get back at people who have different views then your own.

  • Anna
    February 07, 2012 - 10:27

    Bernard, Danny boy got us in this mess with his campaign against Harper, we have elected 5 Liberal, 1 NDP even though we knew it was going to be a conservative majority. Why in heaven's name would the Conservative Government care about this Province? Mr. Williams did his damage and has left politics and we are now left with the consequences.

  • Anna
    February 07, 2012 - 09:06

    Penashue has to be the most useless politican that has ever been elected by the people of this Province. Whenever he is interviewed, he will never answer the question but is always evasive. When he was on the Fishery Broadcast, he blamed everything on Ryan Cleary. Just imagine he gets paid for this, he should be ashamed to show his face in NL. I hope the voters remember this when the next Federal Election is called.

  • bernard kelly
    February 07, 2012 - 09:04

    To say that Peter Penashue is useless is an understatement!!!!! He is a turncoat.....but then as all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians understand no matter who gets elected for the PC/REFORM crowd in Ottawa from our province he/she will be nothing but a mouthpiece for this out of control govt.... to tow the party line and deny, deny, deny and the mantra continues.... when assets are available for fishing trips but not for life saving events says volumes about the attitude of the Federal govt for this province...Oh Danny boy where are you when we need you the most......

  • Leah
    February 07, 2012 - 08:27

    Peter Penashue, Are you for real....that's your respone? We would more than likely NOT be mourning the tragic horrific unbelievable death of this 14 yr. old teenager if Search and Rescue had done their job at the appropriate time, nor if he was the child of Peter MacKay or some other high-paid politician. It could have been a member of YOUR family. Peter MacKay, I hope this unnecessary tragedy makes you feel now at least some little iota of guilt for using taxpayers' Search and Rescue to pick you up from a fishing trip (as if he's going to read any of this). What a comparison! Just think of all the many hours this darling boy suffered all alone. I am fuming and heartbroken over this. Yes, an investigation should definitely be done, and started immediately, and not lingered on and on, and the findings made public.

  • Political watcher
    February 07, 2012 - 07:41

    Penashue is useless; he did an interview the other day and all he could say was that he didn't have the information an hat he was waiting for it. When asked when he asked for it he rplied that he didn't ask for it but was waiting for the outcome of the Military's report. Kind of like asking the fox how then hens got out of the hen-house. Ever since Penashue wen to Ottawa all he has been is a mouth-piece for the Feds, he is not representing the people who sent him there. I can only imagine if this was ten years ago and it ws the Province's fault what his comment would be. Penashue is a failure as a Federal Rep. I wasn't expecting any support for the island portion of the Province from him but to turn his back on his own people.

    • Dwayne
      February 07, 2012 - 09:03

      I find it upbelievable that one would think that the Island part of the province would not feel any compassion or would not urge action on this issue. Should "Islanders" feel that Labradorians have no feelings for us??? A shameful thought. For the record, I again send my condolences to the family and deeply regret that we (All of us) have elected politicians with no compassion for the electorate...