Father of paramedic killed in helicopter crash says son loved helping others

The Canadian Press
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The Canadian Press has created a static locator map of the area where the ORNGE helicopter went down this morning.

A paramedic who died alongside three other colleagues in a helicopter crash in northern Ontario perished doing the work he was called to do, his father said Friday.

John Snowball said his son, Chris, had his sights set on a career as a medical aid from the time he was a teen.

His 19-year career came to a tragic end on Friday when the Ornge air ambulance helicopter he was flying in crashed in a remote area.

Capt. Don Filliter of Skead, Ont., First Officer Jacques Dupuy of Otterburn-Park, Que. and fellow paramedic Dustin Dagenais of Moose Factory, Ont. were also killed in the crash, which took place while the crew was en route to pick up a patient in the fly-in community of Attawapiskat.

John Snowball said the family is struggling to come to terms with the loss, which is dredging up unfamiliar emotions.

“His brother, I’ve never seen him cry in my life, even when he got a spanking as a kid,” Snowball said from his son’s home in Burlington, Ont. “He cried today.”

John Snowball said Chris had studied to become a paramedic immediately after graduating high school.

He spent more than a decade working near Cape Breton, N.S., before returning to Ontario for the sake of his family, his father said.

Chris had long aspired to work for Ornge, the provincial air ambulance service, despite the storm of scandal that has engulfed the agency in recent months.

He was pleased to land a series of three-month contracts, but was recently delighted to learn he would be beginning a year-long post in Thunder Bay, Ont., John Snowball said. That new assignment was set to begin within a week, he added.

Being a paramedic seemed a natural choice for a man who always felt compelled to help others, he said.

“He was the kind of guy that, if he saw someone on the side of the road, would stop and identify himself as a paramedic. He just always wanted to help out,” John Snowball said. “In my eyes, he’s a hero.”

Chris Snowball is survived by his wife and three children.

Ornge announced the Transportation Safety Board was en route to the scene of the crash to investigate what brought down the helicopter.

“Each and every member of the Ornge team is deeply saddened by this tragic incident,” Ornge Chief Operating Officer Rob Giguere said at a news conference. Our hearts go out to the families and friends of those who lost their lives.“

Giguere said the Sikorsky S76 helicopter, built 33 years ago, made a “normal departure” before it went down on relatively flat terrain amid good visibility despite light rain.

Giguere said both pilots were veteran fliers, noting Filliter was known for his ability to pilot helicopters in northern Ontario.

“The captain is well known in the helicopter world, an extremely well experienced captain who has operated out of Moosonee and has been an EMS pilot for some time.”

Giguere said Ornge has six S76 helicopters in its fleet and has grounded two of them “out of an abundance of caution.”

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne expressed condolences to the families of the four deceased.

“You know there really are few words to express how sad we all are that this has happened,” she said in Sarnia, Ont.

Greg Rickford, Conservative MP for Kenora, Ont., made a tearful statement in the House of Commons today about the Ornge crash.

“I ask all members to join me in paying tribute to this tragic loss of these four lives and those who take such particular risks to ensure the health and safety of all Canadians across this immense country,” said Rickford, who worked as a nurse and a lawyer in First Nations communities in northwest Ontario.

“We share their loss, our hearts are with the family (and) friends.”

— With files from Will Campbell.




(Earlier story)

MOOSONEE, Ont. — Ontario’s air ambulance service has released the names of four staff members killed this morning after one of its helicopters crashed in a remote area of northern Ontario.

They are Capt. Don Filliter of Skead, Ont., First Officer Jacques Dupuy, of Otterburn-Park, Que., paramedic Dustin Dagenais, of Moose Factory, Ont., and paramedic Chris Snowball, of Burlington, Ont.

All four died when the Ornge air ambulance service helicopter crashed after takeoff near Moosonee. No patients were on board.

The air ambulance service said the Sikorsky S76 helicopter left its base in Moosonee en route to Attawapiskat at about midnight and contact was lost with the aircraft shortly after takeoff.

Provincial police in North Bay said they called in military rescue crews, who parachuted down to the “very remote bush area” where the chopper went down.

It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the crash. The Transportation Safety Board is sending a team of investigators to the scene.



Organizations: Transportation Safety Board

Geographic location: Moosonee, Ontario, Northern Ontario.They Skead Otterburn-Park Moose Factory Burlington Attawapiskat North Bay

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