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Updated: Winkler men perish in plane crash

Greg Vandermeulen and Emily Distefano

BRUNKILD - 

RCMP have confirmed two fatalities in a Feb. 9 plane crash near Brunkild.

The 60-year-old and 41-year-old male victims were from Winkler. Media reports have identified the men as Art Paetkau, owner of Arty's Air Service and John Friesen, an electrician at Border View Electric.

RCMP were first dispatched to look for a missing plane at 8:50 p.m on Feb. 9 after an aircraft that left St. Andrews Airport enroute to Winkler failed to arrive.

“RCMP officers from Headingley and Carman searched for the Cessna 185 plane destined for Winkler,” police confirmed in a press release.

The search continued with detachment members as well as RCMP Search and Rescue and the Canadian Armed Forces Search and Rescue team. Snowmobiles were deployed as well. Weather conditions were poor and visibility was low.

“The plane was located crashed near Brunkild, Manitoba off of Provincial Road 305 at approximately 1:05 am on February 10.” RCMP said in a press release. “There were two males on board, both were deceased.”

Carman resident Jen Pockett witnessed the crash, although she didn't know at the time what she was seeing.

Driving south on Highway 3, she reached Brunkild around 1:15 am and saw a field lit up by what looked like a fireball.

"We honestly did not know what it was," she said. "We thought it was a meteorite or something. It was like a fireball going into the sky, and then a big cloud of smoke behind that fireball. And then it would disappear, come down to the ground again and then all of a sudden another one would appear into the sky."

She found out this morning that what she actually saw was the result of a plane crash.

"It's very scary, and very sad for those people," she said.

Paetkau had over 25 years experience as an Ag pilot. He started the family-owned Arty's Air Service, which provides aerial application services, chemical and seed retail as well as agronomy services, in 1978.

John Carley of the Carman Airport Commission said he was very saddened to learn of the crash.

He said he doesn't know anything about the circumstances of the accident, but noted that Paetkau was known as a leader in the aviation community in this area.

"It reminds all of us to be always vigilant in our aviation activities," he said.

The Transportation Safety Board and RCMP are working together on this continuing investigation.