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A sacred homecoming

A father's wait for daughters' mementos nearly over

Mike W. Bryant
Northern News Services

Fort Norman (July 14/03) - There's a lonely little spot 1,100 feet up the side of a mountain where a still grieving father had hoped he could finally pay a visit and his last respects.

The rugged hillside -- a remote area 50 kilometres south of Fort Good Hope -- probably would've remained untrodden by human feet had not the plane carrying Frederick Andrew's two daughters, Ashley, 18, and Lindsay, 11, crashed there on a snowy New Year's Eve in 2001.

All four on board the ill-fated Cessna 172 were killed, including Andrew's two daughters, the 23-year-old pilot, Dana Wentzel, and well-known Hay River fiddler Kole Crook, who was accompanying the two girls back to their home town of Tulita to perform that night at a New Year's party.

As of last week, the crashed plane and most of its contents -- but most importantly to Andrew -- his daughters' luggage, was still there.

Andrew is a Shutoagotine (Mountain Dene). It's part of their tradition that once a loved one dies one item of theirs is kept as a sacred memento. The rest of their possessions are burned.

In Lindsay's suitcase, Andrew believes, are photographs taken over Christmas just before they died. He wants them retrieved from the crash site so he can honour his daughters' memory according to his people's custom.

What pains the Tulita resident is that when the search and rescue team came to retrieve the bodies, the personal effects of only one of the passengers were taken out -- that of Crook, including his prized fiddle.

"It's been going on too long now," said Andrew on Thursday. "I want to go out there this summer. It's just hard."

Now, at last, his 18 month-long wait appears to be almost over.

Const. Harvey Pierrot, from the RCMP detachment in Norman Wells, hoped to take Andrew out to the crash site by helicopter on Friday. A local company had offered to fly them out for free.

At press time, it remained uncertain whether the trip was successful.

The weather in the area on Friday was foul, and the climb down to the crash site is steep and treacherous.

"He did ask me to do this last year," said Pierrot. "I'm not doing this as an RCMP officer, but as a person, a civilian.

"What happened initially it just blew up on us. There was a bunch of other organizations involved, now it's just going to go right back to us doing it ourselves.

"All we're going to do is go and recover the effects (only) if there's no danger to anyone."

While he was hoping the recovery could've happened sooner, Andrew said he's touched by Pierrot's efforts to help him.

"I think he really wants to help me deep in his heart," said Andrew. "Because he was one of the persons who picked my two daughters up during the winter time (after the crash)."

Who picks up the pieces?

Cathy Menard, deputy chief coroner for the NWT, said her office is currently conducting research into whose responsibility is it when it comes to retrieving personal effects from an accident site.

The North is full of vast expanses where a plane, boat or person may be swallowed up whole without a trace. And even if a crash site is located, it may be impossible to bring personal items back for grieving families because of the distance and hardship it would take.

"We are doing a little bit of research in that area, what they do in other jurisdictions," said Menard. "All that stuff has to be looked at, of course."

An inquest into the crash is scheduled to take place in Tulita, beginning Oct. 27.