A witness to a mid-air collision in Saskatchewan that took the lives of five people saw one of the planes nose-diving before it disappeared behind hills and trees.
“As it was going down it was getting louder and louder and then all of a sudden it was just quiet,” said Jackie Mark in a telephone interview with The Canadian Press on Monday. “When it hit the ground, I didn’t see it, but then there was just dead silence.”
Ms. Mark was having coffee at home in St. Brieux on Saturday morning with her mother when a loud noise prompted her to look out the window.
“I told my mom that I thought a plane was crashing. I just saw the one plane. It looked intact but just going straight down.”
The two women drove down the road to confirm there had been a crash but didn’t see anything initially.
“I just assumed if there was a plane crash there would be smoke or there would be fire or there would be some kind of dust. We didn’t see anything,” she said.
“There was something in the field ... a piece of something but I didn’t pay that much attention. When I got back ... I realized it was a piece of a plane or of a wing. That is when I did call 911.”
The crash took place about a kilometre from her home.
An experienced pilot said the collision probably happened in the blink of an eye.
“It happened so quickly. If you saw them with any amount of warning, you could have avoided it, and when you think about it and the speed they were travelling, a part of a second would have made a difference,” said Tom Ray of the Regina Flying Club.
“Normally it’s see-and-be-seen as far as going into smaller airports like that or flying over a smaller airport, but they were probably coming about 90 degrees. One was northbound, one was eastbound and maybe there was sun in the eyes. Who knows?”
Mr. Ray suggested the collision may have been similar to a vehicle being T-boned at an intersection.
“Typically pilots look ... forward where they’re going mostly rather than 90 degrees off to the side.”
Debris from the planes — a Piper PA-28 and a Lake Buccaneer amphibious plane — was scattered on grassy fields and among trees near St. Brieux, northeast of Saskatoon. One of the planes was submerged in water.
The bodies of the victims were recovered Monday.
Police had yet to identify the people killed, but family members confirmed that the three on board the Piper were Denny Loree, Eric Donovan and his 11-year-old son Wade. All lived near Mossleigh, Alta.
An obituary in a Saskatchewan newspaper said Joy and Eric Jackson of Regina were also killed.
“It’s a bit of a shock,” said Mr. Ray, who noted that Eric Jackson had just recently earned his pilot’s licence. “The pilot community is kind of a tight group and there was initial shock and sadness (when) ... we heard he was killed and his wife. It’s sad to see those things happen,” he said.
“We know that they’re very rare (collisions), especially in uncontrolled airspace. The fact that they were in the same location, at the same time and at the same altitude is just a very freaky thing.”
Transportation Safety Board investigators were on the scene trying to piece together what happened. Board spokesman Peter Hildebrand said the investigation was proving difficult.
“It’s not a matter of just collecting the debris off the field. It’s buried in the water and in the marshy areas, so it depends a lot on what complications could occur and what kind of equipment can we find to go in there and look at it,” Mr. Hildebrand explained.
He said both aircraft were severely damaged in the air and when they hit the ground.
“That compound situation complicates the effort to determine just which one was flying in which direction (and) from what angle did they hit each other.”
Police said the Piper was on its way from Calgary to the airstrip in St. Brieux, while the amphibious plane was flying from Regina to La Ronge, Sask.
By Bill Graveland in Calgary