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Cloquet, Duluth men survive plane crash in Labrador

By Sam Cook

Duluth News Tribune

Two flyfishermen, one from Cloquet and another from Duluth, are in good condition at Canadian hospitals following a bush-plane crash Monday in Labrador.

Karl Kaufman of Cloquet and Randall Hicks of Duluth were flying out for another day of brook trout fishing on Monday when the DeHavilland Beaver floatplane in which they were flying crashed into a bog shortly after takeoff, according to telephone interviews with both men.

"We went down fast. I thought I was going to die," said Kaufman, 73.

Hicks suffered two broken ankles, compound fractures of his left arm above and below the elbow, and a laceration above one eye, he said. He spoke from a hospital in Quebec City, Quebec, on Wednesday morning. He had surgery on one ankle and his arm on Tuesday, he said, but the other ankle is too swollen for surgery.

Kaufman suffered a broken left ankle, a broken right leg and a dislocated thumb. He is hospitalized in St. John's, Newfoundland, where he had ankle surgery Tuesday night. Neither man is sure when he will be discharged or flown home.

Seven people were in the plane - the pilot, two fishing guides, Hicks, Kaufman and two other anglers from Wisconsin. The anglers were fishing out of Three Rivers Lodge, 150 miles northeast of Labrador City.

The pilot and one other fishing client suffered critical injuries, according to a Canadian news report. The full extent of those injuries is not known. Kaufman and Hicks said the pilot and one of the other anglers, both sitting in front, were the most severely injured. The fishing guides, sitting at the rear of the plane, did not suffer serious injuries.

The crash occurred about 8:30 a.m. Kaufman and Hicks were the last to be evacuated, about 4:30 p.m., Hicks said.

Weather was not a factor in the crash, according to a Canadian news service Web site.

"It seems like the motor just kind of exploded, and it just quit," Kaufman said. "Panic set in."

The plane landed nose first and on its left side, the side on which Hicks was sitting. The pilot lost consciousness after the crash, both Kaufman and Hicks said. Kaufman credited the pilot for seeking the bog as a landing place.

"That saved our lives," he said. "It was like landing on a sponge."

"Everything could not have worked better," said Hicks, 53. "The emergency-locator beacon went off [signaling the crash position]. We were 5 kilometers [3 miles] from camp. We had a satellite phone. We got in touch with camp."

Within about an hour of the crash, a plane flew over the crash site, confirming its position, Hicks said. About 12:45 p.m., a Canadian military rescue plane arrived, and three paramedics parachuted to the bog to treat the injured, Hicks said.

Two guides from the lodge also arrived at midday after hiking in to the site, Kaufman and Hicks said.

Two helicopters came later, shuttling the injured pilot and passengers to Wabush, about 150 miles south, for medical evaluation. From there, the injured men were flown to either Quebec City or to St. John's for treatment, Hicks and Kaufman said.

The two men had spoken with each other by phone from their hospitals, they said.