Debris of the crashed planes — a Piper PA-28 and a Lake Buccaneer amphibious plane — were scattered on grassy fields and amongst trees near St. Brieux, northeast of Saskatoon.
Transportation Safety Board investigators arrived at the scene on Sunday, where one of the planes remained submerged in a small body of water.
Police have not identified the victims, but family members confirmed that the three people on board the Piper were Denny Loree, Eric Donovan and his 11-year-old son Wade. All three lived near Mossleigh, Alta.
"It's such a horrific incident. It's such a tragedy," said Mackenzie Loree, whose father Denny was the Piper's pilot.
Ian Donovan, Eric Donovan's cousin, said the trio were on their way to Bourgault Industries, a farm equipment manufacturer based in St. Brieux, to pick up a part for a seeder. Donovan says both families are farmers near Mossleigh and that the Donovans' seeder broke, so Loree offered to fly them to St. Brieux to save them from having to drive more than six hours each way.
Donovan said Loree took time out from seeding his own land in order to help the Donovans out.
"He was being a good neighbour," says Donovan. "It's just who Denny was."
Police said the Piper was on its way from Calgary to the airstrip in St. Brieux with two men and a young male, while the amphibious plane was flying from Regina to La Ronge, Sask. with a man and a woman on board. Police say there were no survivors.
Peter Hildebrand, regional manager for the Transportation Safety Board, said it is extremely rare for two planes to collide. He said that's especially true on the Prairies, where air traffic is more spread out than it is in eastern Canada.
Hildebrand said the crash happened either beyond radar coverage or was too low to be picked up by radar, so there isn't a clear image of what happened at the moment of impact.
He said a flight plan was filed for the Piper, and radar shows it descending as it approached St. Brieux, but the plane can't be seen once it went below 1,280 metres. No flight plan has been located for the Buccaneer, Hildbrand said, although he cautioned it's possible there was one and it just hasn't been found yet.
"It's possible that all steps normally taken were taken, but we really only have information about one of the (planes) right now," Hildebrand told The Canadian Press from Winnipeg.
Hildebrand said it isn't known yet if either plane had a flight data recorder, but he noted it is rare for such small planes to have them. He said weather appeared to have been good at the time of the collision.
RCMP Cpl. Rob King said the remains of some of the victims were still at the scene on Sunday. He said the wreckage is scattered over more than a one-kilometre area.
King said RCMP arrived at the scene Saturday after receiving a report that a piece of a wing had been found in a field. At that point, it wasn't known that two planes were involved.
"Naturally, they figured if there's a wing, there's got to be more. And while they were looking around, they received information that a second plane may have been in the area and may be down as well," King said, explaining that he believed the information about the second plane came from air traffic controllers in Regina.
"Through some more ground searching they were able to locate the second crash site as well."
Mackenzie Loree said he and his mother, Joan Loree, are thankful to everyone who helped in the search. He said his father was an excellent pilot, and that he doesn't want to speculate about what happened while the TSB conducts its investigation.
"Our hearts go out to all of the family and friends of the deceased individuals," Loree said. "We want to pay tribute to Eric, Wade and Denny who were loved and respected by all who knew them."
Donovan says his cousin leaves behind a wife and three other children.
Pauline Boyer, mayor of St. Brieux, Sask., says people in the small community are praying for the families of the victims.
"We don't know the names of the people," Boyer said Sunday morning. "It's just a very sad event that happened near our community."
"It's very, very tragic."
_ By Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton.
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