DRUMMONDVILLE, Que. — The fiery helicopter crash that killed three people northeast of Montreal was unlikely due to a criminal act, police said Friday.
A four-seater Robinson R44-model helicopter was travelling from Quebec's Beauce region to the Lanaudiere when it crashed Thursday around 9 p.m. in a snow-covered field just north of Drummondville, killing all three people aboard.
"Presently, the theory of a criminal gesture is not privileged by our investigators," provincial police spokesman Hugo Fournier said in a phone interview.
The victims, two women and one man, had not been identified as of Friday evening.
Deep snow made things difficult for first responders
As the first full day of investigations neared conclusion, there was little information available on what caused the helicopter to crash and catch fire along the banks of the Saint-Francois River, about 100 kilometres northeast of Montreal.
Fournier said police were preparing to leave the scene just before 4 p.m., adding the next step was to figure out how to extricate the carcass of the helicopter from the remote field.
First responders had a difficult time getting to the crash scene because of deep snow. A snow-removal machine was brought in from the city of Drummondville to help them get to the site.
Marc Descoteaux, who owns a farm not far from where the helicopter crashed, said he smelled smoke as he did some work Thursday evening.
"It was burning smell, not a wood-burning smell but more like metal or sodder," Descoteaux said in a phone interview. "Before going home, I saw a fire in the middle of a field about 800 meters from my house."
Thinking it was a snowmobile on fire, he called his nephew to go have a look.
We get very few cars at night, let alone helicopters.Marc Descoteaux
His nephew accessed the area by snowmobile. Realizing it was a helicopter, Descoteaux said they called police.
"A helicopter at night in the neighbourhood is very rare," he said of his rural area. "We get very few cars at night, let alone helicopters."
His brother used a snowblower to make a path for the first officers and emergency personnel at the scene.
Fournier said investigations are considering if the weather was a factor in the crash.
Cause still being determined
Transportation Safety Board investigators were also on the scene on Friday.
One of those investigators, Pierre Gavillet, said it was too soon to know whether the crash occurred at high speed.
"At first glance we try to see the marks in the snow," he told reporters at the scene around midday. "We try to establish the flight trajectory before the impact."
Gavillet said the investigators would gather information on the weather, the pilot's qualifications and the body of the chopper, which he said was heavily damaged.
He said it wasn't clear whether the helicopter would need to be sent to the TSB's lab for further analysis.
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