- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 18, 2004


U.S. and Canadian crews called off rescue efforts yesterday for 10 persons thought to have been killed when a small regional airline plane crashed into icy Lake Erie shortly after taking off from a Canadian island.

The efforts had been badly hampered by snow and low clouds.

The single-engine plane crashed in snowy weather late Saturday afternoon and, by yesterday, was submerged in 24 feet of water about a mile west of Pelee Island, the Ontario Provincial Police said.

“Unfortunately, this has changed from a rescue mission to a recovery mission,” Constable Brian Knowles of the provincial police said in Kingsville yesterday.

The Georgian Express plane, carrying eight hunters from Ontario, the pilot and his American friend, was bound for Windsor, about 35 miles to the northwest, when the pilot made a frantic call for help soon after takeoff.

The wreckage of the Cessna 208 Caravan was found Saturday evening in western Lake Erie, between Cleveland and Detroit, but bad weather kept rescuers from finding the victims.

The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Neah Bay stayed the night at the scene of the crash Saturday, but the snow and low clouds forced helicopters to leave. The water temperature yesterday morning was about 34 degrees, and wind and snow flurries were forecast, with waves of 2 to 4 feet.

“The weather became a very big factor in our efforts,” said Capt. Dave Elit of the Canadian search and rescue coordination center at Canadian Forces Base Trenton.

Authorities identified the victims as pilot Wayne Price, 32, of Richmond Hill, Ontario; Fred Freitas, 38, and Larry Janik, 48, of Kingsville; Jim Allan, 51, of Mitchell’s Bay; Ted Reeve, 53, Tom Reeve, 49, and Robert Brisco, 46, of Chatham; Ronald Spencler, 53; Walter Sadowski, 48, of Windsor; and Jamie Levine, 28, of Los Angeles.

Pelee Island resident Shawnda Bedel said she saw the hunters at the airport on Saturday. She said she had been planning to take a flight off the island Saturday to join her husband, but changed her mind at the last minute.

“It was crummy weather,” Mrs. Bedel said in a telephone interview. “It snowed most of the day.”

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