A plane crash in the rugged interior of Canada during seemingly calm weather has sparked a federal investigation into what might have brought down the small aircraft.
But the revelations that two of the passengers were fleeing murder and conspiracy charges and had ties to organized crime has only deepened the mystery surrounding the doomed flight.
Over the weekend, rescue teams sent a search plane and two helicopters to scour the northwestern Ontario forest, following reports of a plane that never reached its intended destination.
On Saturday, the wreckage of a small plane, a four-seater Piper PA-28 Cherokee, was discovered near Sioux City Lookout, guided by the plane’s emergency locator beacon. Neither the pilot, Abhinav Handa, nor the three passengers survived the crash.
Among those on board the plane was Gene Lahrkamp, one of the most wanted men in the country with a $100,000 Canadian (US$78,000) bounty on his head, according to the British Columbia Combined Forces Special Unit.
Lahrkamp, a former soldier, was the prime suspect in the murder of gang member Jimi Sandhu, who was shot dead while staying in a villa in Phuket, Thailand in February.
Sandhu was born in India but grew up in the Canadian city of Abbotsford, British Columbia, where he joined the United Nations gang. He was deported to India in 2016 by Canadian authorities for “serious criminality” and arrested there two years later for his role in a ketamine manufacturing operation.
Thai police allege that Lahrkamp and co-conspirator Matthew Dupre, another former soldier, traveled to Thailand to kill Sandhu, whose body was found riddled with bullets.
Thai police say they dressed in hoodies and face masks for the attack and they fled to Canada two days after the shooting.
Sandhu’s death marks the second recent shooting of a Canadian-linked gang member abroad. in January, Two Toronto men linked to the Hells Angels have been killed near the resort town of Playa del Carmen in Mexico.
Dupre was arrested by Canadian police in late February and is awaiting extradition. An Interpol Red Notice for Lahrkamp warned that he might be armed and dangerous, as well as possibly suicidal.
Also on board the plane was Duncan Bailey, another suspected gang member, who was facing conspiracy to commit murder charges for a 2020 shooting in Vancouver. An arrest warrant was issued for Bailey in late April after prosecutors in British Columbia said he breached his bail conditions.
The fourth person on the plane was identified as Hankun Hong, a resident of British Columbia. It is not clear if he was a co-pilot on the flight or a passenger. Images from his Facebook page show the 27-year-old piloting a small plane in western British Columbia.
The aircraft left the province on April 23, making frequent refueling stops as it traveled east. The plane left the city of Dryden, Ontario, on Friday night, April 29, and was supposed to land in the city of Marathon, about 700 kilometers away.
Authorities have not yet said if they know where the plane was headed after its stopover in Marathon, but Ontario Provincial Police say they are conducting a criminal investigation into the flight and possible links between the passengers.
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