Former provincial official apologizes for tone during Burton Winters search

·4 min read
Burton Winters was last seen in the coastal Labrador community of Makkovik at 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 29, 2012. His body was found on Feb. 1.  (Submitted by Winters family - image credit)
Burton Winters was last seen in the coastal Labrador community of Makkovik at 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 29, 2012. His body was found on Feb. 1. (Submitted by Winters family - image credit)

A former provincial officer apologized for his tone and sarcasm during the search for a Makkovik teenager in 2012, telling the search and rescue inquiry commission Friday that he shouldn't have described the case of the lost 14-year-old the way he did.

Paul Peddle was the emergency department director with Fire and Emergency Services Newfoundland and Labrador (FES-NL), the province's emergency services division at the time.

Peddle made the call to organize air search for Burton Winters, but was accused Friday of using an inappropriate tone during that request in 2012.

"They're afraid he might be gone out on the water, you know, on his Ski-Doo over the ice and God knows what has happened to him then," reads a copy of that conversation.

At Friday's hearing, Peddle spoke with regret for what he said.

"Upon reviewing the search and rescue recordings, I really should apologize for my choice of language and sarcasm when I was dealing with the JRCC," he said, referring to the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre, a search and rescue agency run by the Department of National Defence, Royal Canadian Air Force and the Canadian Coast Guard.

"I assure you, folks, this is not me," Peddle told Winters' family.

"Sometime in emergencies, people are using humour and I shouldn't have done it. But nevertheless, my apologies to the Winters' family and to the residents of Makkovik."

Winters left his grandmother's house on a snowmobile in the early afternoon on Jan. 29, 2012. A search started early that evening, but it wasn't until Feb. 1 that rescuers found his body on sea ice. His family and people in the community believe he may have been on a known snowmobile trail, but missed a turn and headed accidentally to sea.

The inquiry, which commenced in late August, is looking at the Winters case, as well as broader search and rescue issues and policies in Newfoundland and Labrador. It has been hearing evidence in Makkovik this week, including from family members who questioned what was done — and not done — after the teenager was reported missing.

Peddle was tasked with coordinating the air resources in the search for Winters and was the communication point between the RCMP and JRCC in Nova Scotia.

Mitch Rumbolt, director of the Emergency Services Division for the last year and a half, also provided evidence Friday.

The province became involved with the search for Winters the morning of Jan. 30. At that point, the RCMP had searched the entire community of Makkovik and believed the boy could have been on the sea ice.

The RCMP then phoned FES-NL to request air support.

CBC
CBC

FES-NL would typically phone private helicopters contracted by the province in the area. If none was available, then it would call the JRCC to seek military help, Rumbolt said.

Peddle phoned Universal Helicopters, now known as Canadian Helicopters, but they couldn't help because of the weather. Peddle then contacted the JRCC, Rumbolt said.

In transcripts, the JRCC said they were not willing to send the Cormorant helicopter that far north without a Hercules being serviceable in case of other emergencies. The JRCC defended that decision Wednesday. Two Hercules aircraft were both out for maintenance, one Griffon helicopter was out for maintenance and another had a leak.

However, Peddle said not sending the available resource was unusual, as the JRCC would only not assist if there were no helicopters available "whatsoever."

RCMP
RCMP

The search was left without air support until a private Woodward Oil helicopter volunteered. After it was able to fly, Peddle phoned Universal again.

The Universal helicopter was dispatched at 11 a.m. on Jan. 30.

The family's lawyer, Tom Williams, had questions about the private helicopter's searching abilities. Rumbolt said he wasn't privy to the skill level of the crew, but noted private operators don't have the same level of technology as DND aircraft.

Williams also took issue with the time the helicopter was contracted for on that first day. The Universal helicopter was contracted for less than five hours in total, he said. Two of those hours were spent traveling back and forth from Happy Valley-Goose Bay to Makkovik.

"There was a total of three hours spent searching for Burton Winters by air services in the first 24 hours," Williams said. "Total of three hours."

Williams said there's no accounting for the private Woodward Oil helicopter, but it was not contracted by the province.

The inquiry is not to lay civil and criminal liability charges against any persons or organizations. Rather, it is to look at policies and processes and make recommendations for changes for future searches.

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