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Two pilots, two paramedics die in Ornge helicopter crash in northern Ontario

Kristy Brownlee.

By Kristy Brownlee, Postmedia Network

All four people aboard an Ornge air ambulance helicopter were killed in a crash shortly after takeoff in northern Ontario early Friday.

Two pilots and two paramedics died when the aircraft went down just over a kilometre from the base in Moosonee while en route to Attawapiskat shortly after midnight.

They have been identified as Capt. Don Filliter, of Skead, Ont., First Officer Jacques Dupuy, of Otterburn-Park, Que., and paramedics Dustin Dagenais, from Moose Factory, Ont., and Chris Snowball, from Burlington, Ont.

No patients were on board, and a fixed-wing aircraft was sent to Attawapiskat to pick up the patient in place of the helicopter.

No cause of the crash has been determined and the weather was overcast at the time with good visibility. Ornge chief operating officer Rob Giguere told a press conference Friday afternoon.

"The pilots were very well experienced," Giguere said. "In fact, the captain (Filliter) is well-known in the helicopter world, an extremely experienced captain who has operated out Moosonee many times."

Filliter was a father of three and his wife is an employee at Health Sciences North in Sudbury, Ont., according to a statement from the hospital.

Howie Isaac, a critical-flight-care paramedic in Sudbury, coached hockey with Dagenais in Moose Factory. He said Dagenais, who lived with his wife and 10-month-old daughter, seemed to have it all.

"He was a special kind of person," Isaac said. "It does take somebody special to go live up North in a remote community -- and on the reserve at that -- to offer his time there."

"Our hearts go out to the families and friends of those who lost their lives. We'll do whatever we can to support them in this difficult time," Giguere said.

The helicopter that crashed was manufactured in 1980 and was up-to-date in its mechanical checks. Five other Sikorsky S76s in Ornge's fleet have been pulled from service since the crash, Ornge CEO Dr. Andrew McCallum said at an afternoon press conference.

Ornge said it has made arrangements with other carriers to ensure service is not disrupted in the province.

Moosonee Mayor Victor Mitchell said the town of nearly 3,500 is in mourning.

"This is a small community and everybody has a sense of remorse for what happened."

Premier Kathleen Wynne said in a statement that she is devastated.

"The pilots and paramedics of Ornge provide lifesaving services in every region of this province, and my thoughts and prayers are with the friends and families of these brave individuals," Wynne said. "They lost their lives ensuring the people of this province receive the help they need. Their service and sacrifice will be honoured and remembered."

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada sent a team of investigators to the scene.

- with files from Benjamin Aube, Carol Mulligan and Antonella Artuso


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