Makkovik boy remembered at vigil

Justin Brake
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Stephanie Fost, Burton Winters’ aunt, and her son stand outside the Confederation Building Thursday evening.— Photo by Justin Brake/Special to The Telegram

An aunt of Burton Winters, the 14-year-old boy from Makkovik who was found dead on the sea ice off the coast of northern Labrador last week, organized a public vigil Thursday evening outside the Confederation Building, where family, relatives, friends and members of the public gathered to call on the federal government and Canadian Forces to re-evaluate search and rescue (SAR) policies and procedures.

Stephanie Fost of St. John’s said her sister in Makkovik had posted on Facebook that a vigil and demonstration was being held in Burton’s hometown and other communities along Labrador’s coast, so she promptly co-ordinated a similar action in St. John’s, where she read a statement to local media.

“Newfoundland and Labradorians need to take a stand. We need to take a stand to honour Burton’s legacy and to make sure no other lives are lost,” she said, holding a picture of Burton in her arms, and with about 30 supporters gathered around her holding candles and signs.

“As we continue to grieve over the death of our 14-year-old Burton, we are speaking up today and will continue to speak up and hope that a search and rescue unit will be stationed in Labrador that will be adequately staffed with leadership that allows for these men and women to do their jobs and to save lives.

“We understand that Burton will never come home,” she said, as tears welled up in her eyes and her voice began to tremble. “However, we would like for future Burtons to have a fighting chance to come home to their loving friends and family. In honour of Burton Winters we are pleading for change.”

Burton was first reported missing the evening of Jan. 29, but the military said it could not dispatch a helicopter from Goose Bay due to inclement weather when it got the call the following day.

When it was discovered SAR was not responding, a private chopper embarked on a search for the missing teenager.

However, it wasn’t until three days later his body was found about 19 kilometres from his abandoned snowmobile.

On Wednesday, Rear-Admiral Dave Gardam, commander of Joint Task Force Atlantic, told media in St. John’s it was, in fact, the weather in Makkovik, not Goose Bay, that prevented the dispatch of a military chopper.

Mechanical issues with both Goose Bay-stationed choppers were also said to be an issue at the time SAR received the Jan. 30 call.

Chris Sheppard, a friend of Burton’s family, attended the vigil in St. John’s Thursday evening. Originally from Postville, a neighbouring community of Makkovik, Sheppard said the timeline of events and circumstances are unclear, but still, “something needs to change.”

“I honestly believe that someone dropped the ball when it comes to everything that happened,” he said. “With the response time it seems there was a breakdown of communication and no one’s admitting to anything.

“I think every Canadian should be worried that this happened,” he continued. “A young boy died because someone didn’t respond, and I think every person in this country should be worried when the people who should be able to respond can’t.

“I pay taxes so that these services are available,” he said. “We all pay taxes so that these things are there, and when they’re not I really have an issue with that.”

Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay told the House of Commons Tuesday that he asked the chief of defence staff for a “full investigation into all the circumstances around this tragic death,” and said he should have answers by the end of the week.

Organizations: Canadian Forces, House of Commons

Geographic location: Makkovik, Labrador, Northern Labrador Goose Bay Postville

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Recent comments

  • Tessa Ward
    February 14, 2012 - 11:29

    This is so sad, the Rescue People should of searched sooner!

    • Catherine Deagle
      February 15, 2012 - 13:04

      AS A GRANDMOTHER TO 6 TEENAGERS, I CAN'T EVEN IMAGINE GOING THROUGH THAT FAMILY'S PAIN. I WAS ALWAYS PROUD TO BE A CANADIAN BUT I NOW FEEL LIKE HANGING MY HEAD IN SHAME!!

  • PADDY MURPHY
    February 10, 2012 - 21:46

    My heart goes out to the family of this poor unfortunate child. We need to bring more awareness to the dangers of snowmobiling solo. The buddy system should be taught to our children and enforced as a matter of safety. Survival equipment is essential when traveling in hostile environments. Inclement weather and maintenance issues aside this incident was easily avoided with proper instruction. I would like to see mandatory testing and licensing for anyone using a motorized vehicle be it off road or on. Two days wait before a search and rescue response is unacceptable, how bad must the weather be before these aircraft can fly? Was the weather really that inclement where safety of the flight crew were a factor? Would these rescuers have pushed the limit even slightly if it was one of their own children? Again, this incident could have been avoided however that does not negate the responsibility of our public servants to provide the emergency services in a timely manner.

  • Danny
    February 10, 2012 - 13:08

    Your strenght and courage is so admirable Stephanie... every one in the province should join the demonstrations and put the necessary pressure on the federal government to make the needed change and put a SAR unit in Labrador... how many people have to die needlessly because the federal government uses lack of funds as a sorry excuse... the arrogance of some politicians is shameful... Peter McKay should resign and take Stephen Harper with him... I shudder to think what the state of the nation will look ike after the Harper reign...

  • Dee
    February 10, 2012 - 11:51

    My sincerest condolences to the family and friends of Burton Winters. His loss is an extreme tragedy that should not have occured. I believe SAR's response as to why the search was delayed is completely inexcuseable. If their equipment is unable to function during extreme weather, or if they are unwilling to perform during extreme weather; I fail to see the purpose of SAR. I feel the fact a private chopper embarked on a search for the missing teenager when it was realized SAR would not contribute to the rescue, speaks volumes about the quality of our Government's SAR team. I sincerely hope Mr. Peter McKay will hold someone responsible for this tragedy.

  • Max Roe
    February 10, 2012 - 09:15

    My sincerest condolences to the family and friends. I feel we failed this young man utterly. I believe the frontline Search and Rescue people involved did everything they could, but the Grififn helicopter they have is not adequate to do the job. This machine was purchased through a vey politicized process in the early '90's. I strongly believe adequate funds exist for necessities such as Search and Rescue, but there is far too much pandering to special interest groups, social experimentation, and political pet projects. Mr McKay, if you had half the courage of this young man you and your Government would get rid of the fluff and fund the things that matter. I have included below links to a very telling article re Trenton S&R, and another to a brief history of this machine. Some telling comments from these articles: Excerpt from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bell_CH-146_Griffon Suitability for role The CH-146 was purchased by the CF to replace four existing helicopters, the CH-136 Kiowa in the observation role, the CH-135 Twin Huey in the army tactical role, the CH-118 Iroquois in the base rescue role and the heavy lift CH-147 Chinook. From the time of its purchase defence analysts have been critical of the aircraft pointing to its procurement as politically motivated and that the aircraft cannot adequately fill any of its intended roles. It has been termed "a civilian designed and built aircraft, with only a coat of green paint."[13][14] Writing in 2006 defence analyst Sharon Hobson said: The Griffon helicopter has become almost a laughing stock. It is underpowered for the transport role the army needs it to play, and it’s too big for a reconnaissance role. At a time when the Canadian Forces are thirsting for equipment, it’s telling that about 20 of the Griffons have been parked.[13] Excerpt from: http://www.w54.biz/showthread.php?1229-Canadian-Search-Rescue-still-in-trouble Air force planners are particularly nervous about using Griffons over the Great Lakes because it has no emergency flotation devices. "In a ditching scenario, the aircraft would sink quickly and most likely roll over in the process leaving very little time for the crew to safely egress." Respectfully, Max

  • snip
    February 10, 2012 - 08:01

    This is such a tragic story. My prayers and thoughts are with the Winters family. I can only imagine how I'd be if this was my child. The most sad thing is, he could have been found safe....Shame on the SAR and the Government !!