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LA RONGE - Whenever an airplane tragedy occurs, the question of possible human error emerges and the recent tragic deaths of Paul John, Lionel Deschambeault, Rod Morrison, and Cliff Stanley in a plane crash 28 miles west of Cumberland House, proved no less.
On January 4, 1974, a day after the downed Cessna 185 with the four men were found dead, Harry Hougton, Mayor of La Ronge, rebuked persons who doubt the capabilities of northern pilots. "Southerners believe that pilots of the North fly by the seats of their pants and are not good flyers," he said.
Twenty-two year old Paul John was the pilot of the aircraft, and the Mayor of La Ronge was replying to questions raised as to the flying capabilities of Mr. John.
Paul John, better known as "P.J.", a registered Chipewyan Indian from the Patuanak Indian Reserve *in northern Saskatchewan, received his private pilot's license on April 27, 1971 through .the Department of Indian Affairs. On March 24, 1972, he became the first Treaty Indian in Saskatchewan to receive his commercial pilot's license.
Mr. John, while learning to fly, was employed by Athabasca Airways in Prince Albert, at the same time apprenticing for engineering of airplanes. The Saskatchewan Indian newspaper did a feature article about him on "October 1971, at which time he expressed his hope of eventually flying as a commercial pilot for Athabasca Airways.
After successfully qualifying for his commercial pilot's license in spring of 1972, he went to work for Athabasca Airways in La Ronge as a "bush pilot" fulfilling his dream. He worked for Athabasca Airways for 18 months before taking employment with the Department of Northern Saskatchewan as a Conservation Officer pilot. While in La Ronge, he met Judy, his bride of three days.
The Mayor of La Ronge expressed his shock at the "cruelty and irresponsibility at a time like this to question the ability of these men who have proven themselves time and time again." The Mayor further expressed his belief that "pilots from Northern Saskatchewan are among the best you will find anywhere."
Bill Jackson, Manager of Athabasca Airways in La Ronge where Mr. John was employed for 18 months, said he had no doubts of Mr. John's flying abilities.
According to Vern. Brooks, employee of the Department of Northern Saskatchewan, "P.J." was a keen pilot.
Investigations as to the cause of the crash of the aircraft, which was being leased by the Department of Northern Saskatchewan, are still continuing by the Ministry of Transport. There has been no official report of their findings to date.
Paul John was buried on January 9 at Patuanak following services at the United Church in La Ronge and also one at the Roman Catholic Church at Patuanak. Both churches were over-packed with friends and relations of "P.J." to pay him their last respects.