News Local

Search for missing helicopter near Foleyet

By Len Gillis

An air search is underway west of Timmins for a helicopter that has not been seen since it took off from the Horwood Lake area Tuesday night. Two people, a pilot and a passenger, were on board the aircraft, owned by Apex Helicopters Inc. of Wingham, Ontario. The identities of the two people have not been released. The helicopter company was under contract to a timber company in the Foleyet area.

At least two RCAF aircraft are involved in the search including a C130- Hercules and a CH146 Griffon helicopter from the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Trenton. Ontario Provincial Police are also involved, conducting a ground search in the densely wooded area so common in this part of Northern Ontario.

Chris Vankoughnett, the chief pilot and operations manager for Apex Helicopters, told Postmedia Network he is hoping the incident is not a crash but merely a malfunction of some sort.

Vankoughnett said he is the person who notified air force search and rescue base about the overdue aircraft on Wednesday when it became apparent that the helicopter was indeed lost.

“I called as soon as I found out the aircraft was missing, as soon as I got off the phone with the local timber company, around three oclock-ish on Wednesday,” he said.

He said the helicopter was situated at a timber camp Tuesday night, but it took off for a brief flight to go the Horwood lake camp.

The pilot of the helicopter has been reported to be a 24-year-old Kapuskasing man Jeremie Belanger,  and the passanger was identified as Ken Mielke, of Kitchener.

“It was on a non-authorized flight from the timber camp to Horwood Lake and a return trip. And it never made it on the turn trip. It was about five to seven flight minutes, about 15 kilometres,” said Vankoughnett.

“One of the helicopters left their camp unscheduled. There was no flight plan or itinerary provided to any company personnel, so we didn’t even know there was a helicopter in the air at the time,” he said.

When the helicopter did not get back to the timber camp, Vankoughnett said there was no immediate cause for alarm by some workers there, who had seen it leave.

“It was presumed their ground crew was the last one to speak with them about their plans, and the plans were to head back to southern Ontario. So their crew thought that they had left and went to Horwood Lake camp, spent the night and then returned to southern Ontario, yesterday morning (Wednesday),” he said.

Vankoughnett said he was flying to Southern Ontario Wednesday when he learned that the missing helicopter had not returned to Horwood and had not gone to Wingham.  He said he called for air force search and rescue and then he landed in Parry Sound, where has been awaiting news. He said he is encouraged by the search effort.

“They’re concentrating the search from two miles out from the landing spot, from their intended landing spots, they searching two miles from that, and then 15 nautical miles on the other side towards Foleyet,” said Vankoughnett.

“I am thinking they may have missed their landing zone and continued on,” he added.

“The weather was marginal so we’re hoping that what happened is that they missed their landing zone and put down somewhere, where they’re just lost right now,” he said. “That’s how they’re treating it right now. They’re not treating it as an accident they’re treating it as a missing aircraft.

Vankoughnett said he is hoping this is a situation where the helicopter was able to set down and wait for help

“This is hopefully where our thoughts and prayers are right now,” he said.




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