Worker missing after dozer falls through ice on tailings pond identified as New Brunswick man

·3 min read

A 25-year-old man missing after a dozer fell through ice Wednesday on a tailings pond at Suncor's Base Plant mine north of Fort McMurray, Alta., has been identified has Patrick Poitras.

Poitras was driving across the frozen pond around 3 p.m. when the ice gave way.

As of Friday evening, he remained unaccounted for.

From Saint-André, a small community along the western border of New Brunswick, Poitras had been working in the oilsands for several years.

His uncle Joey St-Amand said the family is still coming to grips with the loss.

"They are still looking for the body," St-Amand said in an interview from his home in New Brunswick on Thursday.

"Divers were there this morning and they are still looking ... that's all we know.

"Sadly, his time had come."

'A bon vivant'

St-Amand said his nephew was full of life with a strong work ethic and a big sense of humour.

"He was a bon vivant," he said.

"Patrick was a very outgoing human being. He had a heart of gold and wanted to please everybody.

"When he was around, everyone was laughing, everybody had smiles. He was a cool cat. He was a good kid."

St-Amand said the family is tight-knit and Potrais was more like a little brother to him than a nephew, especially during their years growing up together in rural New Brunswick.

Poitras was recently home for the holidays, and St-Amand saw his nephew for the last time on Boxing Day, at a family supper.

Poitras shared his plans over dinner to return home for good, and said this would be his last trip out west for work.

"It's pretty unfair what happened. He was coming back home," St-Amand said.

"It's hard to swallow."

On Friday, Suncor confirmed that the dozer operator was Poitras and that the search is ongoing.

"Recovery efforts are challenging due to the location where the incident occurred and because the dozer is partially submerged in the pond and the material it is resting on under the ice," said a Suncor spokesperson in a statement.

"We are aggressively exploring several options to safely access the area but we do not know how long this process will take. While these activities take some time to complete, we are working as quickly as we can with the safety of our responders as a priority."'

OHS and RCMP investigating

Occupational Health and Safety and the RCMP are investigating the incident, OHS spokesperson Natasha McKenzie said Thursday.

She declined to provide further details, citing the sensitive nature of the investigation.

It's the third high-profile safety incident at Suncor operations in northern Alberta in the past five months.

Suncor Base Plant is 30 kilometres north of Fort McMurray. The site had recently undergone repairs after a fire inside the plant's extraction facilities in August of 2020.

Two workers died Dec. 28 after a bulldozer collided with a pickup truck at Suncor's Fort Hills mining operation, 90 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.

The driver, a 29-year-old man from Bloomfield, N.L., and the passenger, a 28-year-old woman from Calgary, were pronounced dead at the scene.