Winnipeg-based RCAF search and rescue technician died after parachute malfunction

Winnipeg-based RCAF search and rescue technician died after parachute malfunction

A Winnipeg-based search and rescue technician with the Royal Canadian Air Force died Wednesday during a routine training jump near Yorkton, Sask., military officials say.

Master Cpl. Alfred Barr, 31, was a member of a small, tight-knit group of technicians with the 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron.

"News of this incident came as a shock to the entire 17 Wing community," said Col. Andy Cook, commander of 17 Wing Winnipeg. "It is a very very sad day."

Barr's squadron Cmdr. Kevin Kozak said investigators have yet to begin assessing the scene.

"All we know at this point is there was a malfunction, it was associated with the parachute, but there's a lot of steps in place to have a successful parachute open," he said.

Barr's mother, Sharon Barr, said she was told her son died when his parachute failed to deploy.

"The only news we have is his parachute did not open. He was jumping out of a plane in Yorkton, Sask., when it happened," she said.

The Royal Canadian Air Force launched an inquiry into Barr's death and investigators are set to arrive later Thursday. ​

Cook said at this time he has more questions than answers regarding what happened.

Barr planned to marry in July

Barr lived in Winnipeg along with his fiancée, Steffi Hempel, who is studying to become a nurse.

He is originally from Lethbridge, Alta.

Along with his fiancée, Barr leaves behind two sisters and his mother. His father predeceased him in 2013.

Hempel said Thursday was a very difficult day, but was thankful for the messages of support she has received.

"I am so grateful of all the happy stories that people are sharing … just about how he was," said Hempel.

The couple had planned to get married in July.

"It's a tragedy for her … It's very tragic for all of us," Barr's mother said.

"I can't imagine losing someone that you're going to be married to very soon. They had all wonderful plans, so it's very hard for them.

'He was an awesome son'

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Jonathan Vance, chief of the defence staff, expressed condolences to Barr's family, friends and colleagues late Wednesday.

"Having had the privilege to meet with members of the search and rescue community, I appreciate the risks they take, day in and day out, in fair and bad weather, to come to the aid of Canadians in peril. This is exactly what Master Cpl. Barr was preparing for today," Sajjan said.

Barr's mother remembers her son as a dedicated member of the military and as someone who always tried his best.

"He was a hard worker and always saw the best in people," she said.

"He was an awesome son."