Pilot and passenger honoured for heroic attempts to save life of man killed in Pukatawagan plane crash

A pilot and a passenger who attempted to rescue another passenger from a burning aircraft that went off the runway following an aborted takeoff attempt from Pukatawagan airport in July 2011 were among 42 Canadians presented with Medals of Bravery by Gov. Gen David Johnston in a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa April 24.

Jason Totté of The Pas and Thompson, who was a passenger on the flight bound for The Pas, and Marko Romic of Toronto, Ont., the pilot, attempted to free a 56-year-old passenger who received a head injury from the impact and was unconscious. The man later died from smoke inhalation after Totté and Romic were forced to flee the burning aircraft without him.

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Prior to attempting to rescue the 56-year-old, who was the only one of eight passengers to die in the crash, Totté helped free Romic, who had been trapped in his seat.

The plane went off the end of the 3,000-foot runway when Romic aborted an attempted takeoff after the Beaver Air Cessna 208B operated by Missinippi Airways stopped increasing its airspeed after initial liftoff and did not remain airborne. The plan was about 600 feet from the end of the runway at that point.

"The aircraft was travelling at a relatively low speed but the pilot was unable to stop before the aircraft dropped off the steep slope and proceeded down an embankment before coming to rest in a ravine," read the National Transportation Safety Board's aviation investigation report on the incident. "The aircraft encountered rocks and a sharp slope reversal at the bottom of the ravine. Several of the occupants were injured by the sudden stop. As a result of the impact, the aircraft was damaged and its fuel system was compromised. A post-crash fire ensued almost immediately and consumed most of the aircraft."

"All of you are here because you have shown courage in the face of insurmountable odds," the Governor General told the 42 Medal of Bravery recipients and Daniel Morrison of Thunder Bay, Ont., who received a Star of Courage at the ceremony. "You have plunged into danger with little consideration for your own safety. You have saved lives, and no greater honour can ever be bestowed. It is you-your modesty, your consideration, your empathy, your bravery-who leave an indelible mark on this place, and on all of us. We will not soon forget what you have done for your friends and neighbours, and for complete strangers. You have shown that every life is worth protecting and you have acted in remarkable ways to help preserve lives. As you well know, every life is sacred. Today, we share your stories, with each other and with all Canadians, to show that bravery and courage and selflessness and caring are not ethereal traits. We present you with these insignia as evidence of what people are capable of when put to the ultimate test."

Created in 1972, Decorations for Bravery recognize people who risk their lives to try to save or protect the lives of others. The Medal of Bravery recognizes acts of bravery in hazardous circumstances, the Star of Courage recognizes acts of conspicuous courage in circumstances of great peril and the Cross of Valour recognizes acts of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme peril.

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