NEWS

Searchers never recruited to look for Labrador teen on ice

05/08/2012 10:10 EDT | Updated 07/08/2012 05:12 EDT

An organization of trained search volunteers says its members would have joined the effort to find a teenager later found frozen to death off coastal Labrador, but it was not asked.

The Civil Air Search and Rescue Association — known as CASARA — had six volunteers in Happy Valley-Goose Bay in late January, when Burton Winters, 14, went missing after his snowmobile wound up on ice outside his home community of Makkovik.

Records obtained by CBC News through access to information legislation show that during the search for Winters, the Department of National Defence urged Newfoundland and Labrador emergency officials to enlist the help of CASARA.

A military official on one recording expressed surprise that the person on the other line did not appear to know about the group.

"We're very frustrated," said John Davidson, the Manitoba-based president of CASARA.

"You know, we were there. Available. I don't know if that helps any, but we've got much in the way of experience and we've done this quite considerably … If they had the ability to see the ground and fly in conditions that were not prohibitive for aircraft flight, then we should have had a good opportunity to exist."

Last province without formal agreement

Davidson said CASARA has been unable to negotiate a memorandum of understanding with the Newfoundland and Labrador government, the only province in the country lacking such a formal agreement.

In the legislature on Monday, Premier Kathy Dunderdale insisted that it was not her government's job to take the lead in organizing a search. She said that responsibility belonged with the RCMP.

"The policing who are in charge of the jurisdiction where a search is being conducted are the lead on that search," Dunderdale told the house of assembly.

"They are the ones who call in the resources as they are needed. EMP [the former Emergency Measures Organization] does not run the search and rescue. Fire and Emergency Services does not conduct the search and rescue operations. The police were the lead in Makkovik."

Air spotters go unused

That is news to Sgt. Marc Coulombe, who speaks for the RCMP in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"The process to request assistance from CASARA … I couldn't tell you how it works in this province," he said.

Davidson said that with no formal agreement in place between CASARA and the Newfoundland and Labrador government, the expertise of dozens of volunteer air spotters goes unused, as well as assistance from at least eight planes.

Even without a formal agreement, Davidson said CASARA would have helped with the Winters search in an informal way.

Much of the controversy over the search for Winters has focused on why federal search and rescue resources were not quickly mustered to the effort. A military aircraft helped find the teen's body on Feb. 1, three days after he was reported missing.

Dunderdale has said she has yet to receive a satisfactory explanation from Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

MORE:cbcNews