DND recordings question N.L. role in search for Labrador boy

Audio recordings obtained by CBC News raise new questions about the role of the Newfoundland government in the search for a 14-year-old who died on the sea ice off the north coast of Labrador last winter.

The recordings suggest emergency officials in the province were slow to react after they were alerted the first day Burton Winters was reported missing — Jan. 29.

Federal military search and rescue has been criticized for not sending help to the search area quickly enough during the four-day operation, but military officials didn’t know Winters was missing until more than 20 hours after he was reported lost.

The RCMP were told that Winters was missing at 6:30 p.m. NT, Sunday, Jan. 29.

With volunteers on snowmobiles already looking for the 14-year-old, police said they didn't request air support from provincial officials until Monday morning.

It's up to the province to determine if the military is needed for air searches.

But recordings released to CBC News suggest RCMP in Makkovik did ask the province for help the day Winters was reported missing, but were told to call back in the morning.

One of the recordings released by the Department of National Defence to CBC News includes a conversation on the third day of the search. It’s between RCMP Cpl. Kimball Vardy in Labrador and a military search and rescue dispatcher, Capt. Kristin MacDonald, in Nova Scotia.

MacDonald tells Vardy to contact EMO — the provincial Emergency Measures Organization now known as Fire and Emergency Services (FES) — to arrange aircraft for first light.

"I think EMO should try to make some arrangements tonight so they're not caught off guard in the morning," said MacDonald.

An obviously frustrated Vardy responds that he doesn't believe EMO will start making preparations that night:

"You know what? They won't even do it. I tried to do that the first time, they said, 'Oh no, call us back in the morning, call us back in the morning,'" said Vardy, explaining that the RCMP had been down this road with EMO before on that first, crucial night of searching for Winters.

"We went through that the very first day. We requested it that night, they never even looked at anything until eight o'clock the next morning, and I don't think they were here until after 10 a.m. or ... no, it was actually almost one o'clock in the afternoon before the helicopter arrived."

For its part, the provincial government insists it was not contacted the first night Winters was reported missing.

Another person who took part in the search, and was with Vardy the first night Winters was reported missing, said the audio recording raises questions that must be answered.

"We all thought the call [on the first night] was going out for air support," said Randy Edmunds, the Liberal MHA for the Torngat Mountains district of Labrador.

"This raises more questions and furthers [our] calls for an inquiry."

The teen's body was recovered on Feb. 2.

Within days, critics began raising questions about how the search was conducted and calling for a review to scrutinize what happened.

The Winters family still wants that inquiry because there are too many unanswered questions.

Click on the audio players below to hear parts of the recordings that were obtained by CBC News.

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