One year on, MHA still has questions about Burton Winters

James McLeod
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One year after the death of Labrador teen Burton Winters, Liberal MHA Randy Edmunds says a lot of good has happened, but if more isn’t done, another similar tragedy could happen again.

“We’ve got to find out what went wrong. I mean, inquiries have been called for far less situations than what happened with Burton,” Edmunds said.

“You’ve got to find out what went wrong. For one reason, if not any other, it’s to fix what went wrong. I don’t like to see governments blaming each other and the issue not being addressed,” Edmunds said.

On Jan. 29. 2012, Burton’s body was found on the sea ice off Makkovik. He got lost on his snowmobile three days earlier, and tried to walk home.

Confused, in a snowstorm, he walked 19 kilometres in the wrong direction before he froze to death.

In the months after his death, questions were raised about why the Canadian Forces failed to send a helicopter to search for the teen.

Edmunds, who lives in Makk-ovik, was heavily involved in the search for Burton, and was one of the politicians who was forcefully calling for an inquiry into his death.

He said that the same search and rescue protocols that resulted in no Canadian Forces helicopter showing up, and led to the tragedy a year ago, are still in place today.

“If there’s another scenario that develops, another tragedy, are they going to follow existing protocols? Are we going to go through listening to excuses from DND again? Are we going to have to go through the province and the federal government throwing blame back and forth? “ Edmunds asked.

“These are the questions that certainly we’re asking one year later.”

For the moment, he said, if someone else is lost a chopper would show up, but that won’t necessarily always be the case.

“Right now it’s so much in the eye of everybody in the country, that when they’re called, they will come,” he said. “This is because of the attention this got, and I think as time goes on, you can almost see it going back to the way it was before Burton went missing.”

Edmunds did say that some positive developments have come as a result of the tragedy; there’s now a third Griffin helicopter at the Goose Bay Canadian Forces base.

Search and rescue groups also have infrared equipment to aid in searching, and other measures.

Edmunds said there’s also more awareness.

“We’ve seen some additions. We’ve seen some equipment in the community,” he said. “Whenever there’s a tragedy of this magnitude, there’s always an awareness issue, and people talk to their kids about snowmobiling and about weather, and that’s an evolving process.”

But Edmunds said one year later, he also remembers how the community came together during the tragedy, and the outpouring of support.

“The thing that impacted me the most was a vigil that was held in Makkovik just a few days after. I don’t think there were very many people left in the community; everyone just gathered out on the harbor, and it was such a moving experience,” he said. “You saw Labrador come together as a region; you saw Newfoundland and Labrador come together as a province.”

Twitter: TelegramJames


Organizations: Canadian Forces

Geographic location: Makkovik, Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Happily Retired
    January 29, 2013 - 18:31

    Harold, I would still feel bad for the victim and his family. I would still wonder how he got himself in that situation without a cell phone or GPS. I would still question the motives of the politicians, self acclaimed experts, and media who are using this tragedy to bolster themselves. Though they might not have the same soapbox if it were a grown man.

  • Harold
    January 29, 2013 - 13:56

    let's just forget that we are talking about a 14 year old boy here and say that it was a 44 year old man or woman that was lost, old enough to drive a snowmobile, old enough to make his/her own decisions so you can no longer blame the parents. people.., the fact of the matter is in this case is that a person was lost- the proper agencies were notified and those same agencies DID NOT provide the assistance that they are mandated to provide.

  • EB
    January 29, 2013 - 13:15

    I certainly do have sympathy for the family of Burton Winters. I certainly think that once the situation existed there should have been an appropriate response by SAR. I also agree with the people here who are asking why a 14 year old was out there alone on a snowmobile. Saying that this is how they travel in remote areas and / or this is what everyone in these remote areas do does not make it right. I live in a urban area we most all travel by cars but not many of us give our 14 year old kids access to drive them. By the way, for the parents that do, they would be held responsible for anything that might happen as a result of their actions. Mostly I feel bad for a 14 year old child who died alone, young people don't always use the kind of caution that most adults gain with age and experience. That's why we need to set boundries for them as to what is acceptable and containable from a risk perspective.

  • Josephine
    January 29, 2013 - 09:48

    I was so sad when I heard the news of this young boy dying on the ice. It is an awful thing that happened. I also wonder where his parents were and why they would let a 14 year old leave on a snowmobile without some form of communication to go such a distance all alone. Things can happen, you can break down and being alone there is no help or no one to go for help. I'm a parent and a grandparent and I can assure you no child or grandchild of mine would be allowed to take one of our snow machines to go any distance alone. It just doen't make sense to me.

  • Jerome
    January 29, 2013 - 09:24

    As has been said hundreds of times, for residents of isolated remote communities, snowmobiles and ATVs are a way of life. Burton was visiting his grandmother, a trip he more than likely made numerous times before. Weather in the north is unpredictable in the winter. Really think about how alone and afraid this young teenager must have felt and how much he suffered, and he didn't even know a SAR helicopter wasn't searching for him "in case it was needed somewhere else". This is unbelievable and unacceptable. If his name had been Peter McKay (who was on a personal pleasure trip;, not working), or a politicians' son, Burton would without a doubt be alive today. For McKay a SAR helicopter wasn't kept at home base "just in case it might be needed somewhere else". Burton was a young human being with his whole future ahead of him. For heaven's sake, will everyone involved stop lying and blaming and pointing fingers and even condemning Burton's own parents, and give this family some well deserved honest answers, especially after such a long time. We, obviously, do not have politicians (in more ways than this case) who are suppose to be representing us, the people who are paying their salaries, benefits, allowances, pensions, etc.. Give this family some little iota of peace by at least giving them the truth. This tragedy was NOT their fault. Have a heart and compassion, some people, and put yourselves in their shoes, as well as remember their way of life in the remote north.

  • Harold
    January 29, 2013 - 08:06

    it seems there are still those who blame you Burton. they blame you for being a 14 year old boy. they blame you for being adventurous. they blame you for getting lost. they blame you for not being able to find your way in a snowstorm. them blame you for not having a cell phone. they blame your parents for allowing you to use the snowmobile on your own. they do not understand that life in a remote community is different then live in a city or bigger town. they seem to forget that you did get lost and that there are agencies responsible for searching for you from the very first second you are reported lost. those agencies let us down Burton, they let you down. Please forgive us Burton because WE failed you. it is unforgivable of us to allow a 14 year old boy to freeze to death, alone on the ice or any where. RIP Burton Winters

  • Happily Retired
    January 29, 2013 - 07:36

    To ELSH, Well said. I'm a grand parent too, and I've wondered why that child was in that position in the first place. One of the big shames of this is how some politicians, self acclaimed experts, and media types have used this to score political points, or as a basis to write articles. I'm been left wondering on a number of occasions if they're concerns are about the child, or are they looking for a bit of attention for themselves.

  • ELSH
    January 29, 2013 - 07:07

    Without a doubt, nobody wants to see a young life gone before their time and yes, perhaps SAR protocols could be enhanced... Blaming SAR and government and agencies of government is the typical response, but the issue of culpability doesn't solely rest with these bodies... The question that plagues me and many of my outdoor friends and enthusiasts in relation to this tragedy is this: Given today's technologies and the public awareness programs and warnings issued by the service bodies, why is it that this young man could have access to a $10,000 snowmobile or at his disposal but not have a $20 cell phone in his pocket ? Another question as to culpability lies in the concern as to the training and cautions given to this young person (or any young person) before they are allowed to engage in these types of activities in such hazardous environments... I am a parent and Grand parent but I have never allowed my children or grand children to use any equipment that could conceivably cause harm or death without proper instruction and testing to ensure resposibility of operating it in safe manner. It is so easy to affix blame but let's be certain that we do it where it belongs and even more importantly, let's make sure it can't happen by doing the right thing in the first place.