L’ISLE-AUX-GRUES, Que. — After watching four people die in a plane crash, Denis Boulanger, a man who says he’s not very religious, was clutching a medallion of Saint Anne and describing what he’d seen.
The crash occurred Wednesday on l’Isle-aux-Grues, a small tourist island in the St. Lawrence River.
All four people aboard the single-engine Cessna — three men and one woman — were killed in the accident, about 80 kilometres east of Quebec City.
The charred, broken chunks of the plane remained sprinkled across an open field.
Boulanger said he was working on his dairy farm when the plane plummeted into the ground, sending an explosion of dirt hurtling skyward. One of the passengers was ejected 20 metres away by the impact.
He said he struggled to get near the flaming wreckage where he saw two passengers trapped inside.
“It wasn’t possible to approach it,” said Boulanger, standing in his kitchen several hours later.
L’Isle-aux-Grues has a small landing strip, which provides the only access to it during the winter.
The picturesque island — which has only about 164 residents year-round — is known for its bird-watching, goose-hunting and exotic cheeses.
Boulanger said he’d seen the same tiny plane take off only 15 minutes earlier.
Because of the flames, he focused his initial efforts on the passenger who’d been ejected.
“I wasn’t able to revive him despite trying resuscitation. I did everything I could, but he died in my hands.”
Three of Boulanger’s sons joined him, and together they managed to extract a fourth passenger who was pinned under the wreckage.
“We got him out, otherwise he would have burned underneath. We managed to revive him.”
He then remained by the side of the semi-conscious man for about an hour, holding his hand and speaking loudly to him.
At that moment, Boulanger said, he had hoped to one day meet the passenger whose life he’d saved.
But later in the evening, the provincial police pronounced him dead.
The federal Transportation Safety Board was called to the scene. The cause of the crash was not immediately known.
Boulanger said that after living on the island for 40 years, he had seen similar incidents several times.
He said they’re always traumatic.
“I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. I’ve seen this a few times and it’s always the same - you can’t get nervous. There was lots of work to do. There were four of them.”
Still standing in his kitchen, Boulanger slipped his hand into his pants pocket and pulled out some change and the medal of Saint Anne, the Biblical grandmother of Jesus.
“I’m no more religious than the cat,” he said.
At that moment, however, he was hoping there might be a miracle for the passenger he had tried to save.