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Published: Thursday, 1/29/2004

Divers spot victims bodies

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

KINGSVILLE, Ont. - Canadian divers plunged into the icy waters of Lake Erie for the first time yesterday to get a look at a downed plane and its 10 victims.

Members of the Ontario Provincial Police dive team could not enter the plane s main cabin, officials said. But divers determined that all 10 victims remain aboard the Georgian Express Flight 126, which crashed into the lake Jan. 17 shortly after takeoff from Pelee Island.

Amid gusting winds and subfreezing temperatures, a team of ice divers and investigators remain onsite, on a Canadian Coast Guard vessel about a half-mile west of the island.

Sgt. Doug Babbitt of the Ontario Provincial Police said yesterday the team still is gathering information to determine the safest method of extricating the bodies.

“Information is being gathered through video footage and observations of the divers for the safe and methodical recovery in difficult weather conditions,” he said. “The ice has become very unstable. We lost a lot of the thickness through the heavy rains we ve had, and the safety of the divers continues to be No. 1.”

Denis Rivard of the Transportation Safety Board of Canada said the plane s fuselage was found Monday using sonar. While it was mostly intact, with the right wing still attached, the plane s front end had extensive damage, and the left wing appeared to have been severed, he said.

But what has not been determined is whether the victims could have survived the crash. The regional coroner aboard the Coast Guard vessel, the Samuel Risley, will determine whether the victims died in the crash or in the subsequent sinking of the plane, Mr. Rivard said.

Family members and friends of the 10 people on board have been briefed at least three times a day on the continuing efforts to recover the plane, Sergeant Babbitt said. He said though distressed, family members realize the dangers and understand the delays.

Killed in the crash were Fred Freitas, 38, and Larry Janik, 48, of Kingsville; Ted Reeve, 53, his brother, Tom Reeve, 49, and Robert Brisco, 46, all of Chatham, Ont.; Ronald Spencler, 53, and Walter Sadowski, 48, both of Windsor, Ont.; Jim Allen, 51, of Mitchell s Bay, Ont.; pilot Wayne Price, 32, of Richmond Hill, Ont., and Jamie Levine, 28, of Los Angeles. Also on board were two hunting dogs, Mr. Sadowski s chocolate Labrador and Mr. Freitas black Labrador.

The men were on Pelee Island hunting pheasants and rabbits. Family members said the men were avid hunters and fishermen and often took hunting trips to the island.

Kingsville resident Mike Ohler braved the biting cold to take a walk to the dock s edge where farewell notes to the victims were taped to a pole.

Mr. Ohler said residents now often see helicopters overhead, bringing supplies and personnel to the Samuel Risley, anchored amid the ice about 14 miles offshore.

He said until the plane was found Monday, residents worried that the victims families would not get any closure.

“I keep thinking about the families, and that with no bodies, there are no funerals,” he said. “It s just such a tragedy.”



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