A plane crash in the rugged hinterlands of Canada during seemingly calm weather has prompted a federal investigation into what could have brought down the small aircraft.
But revelations that two of the passengers were fleeing murder and conspiracy charges and had links to organized crime have only deepened the mystery over the doomed flight.
Over the weekend, rescue crews dispatched a search plane and two helicopters to scour the boreal forest of north-western Ontario, after reports of a plane that never arrived at its intended destination.
On Saturday, the debris of a small aircraft, a four-seater Piper PA-28 Cherokee, was discovered near the town of Sioux Lookout, guided by the plane’s emergency locator beacon. Neither the pilot, Abhinav Handa, nor the three passengers survived the crash.
Among those onboard the plane was Gene Lahrkamp, one of the most wanted men in the country with a C$100,000 (US$78,000) bounty on his head, according to the combined forces special enforcement unit of British Columbia.
Lahrkamp, a former soldier was a chief suspect in the murder of gang member Jimi Sandhu, who was shot dead while at a villa in Phuket in February.
Sandhu, was born in India but raised in the British Columbia city of Abbotsford, 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, travelled to Thailand to kill Sandhu, whose body was found riddled with bullets.
Thai police say they dressed in hooded sweatshirts and face coverings for the attack, fleeing for 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 were killed near the resort city 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 he may be armed and dangerous, as well as possibly suicidal.
Also onboard the plane was Duncan Bailey, another alleged gang member, who was facing charges of conspiracy to commit murder over a 2020 shooting in Vancouver. An arrest warrant was issued for Bailey in late April after prosecutors in British Columbia say he breached his bail conditions.
The fourth person on the plane was identified as Hankun Hong, a resident of British Columbia. It is unclear 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 aircraft in western British Columbia.
The plane left the province on 23 April, making frequent refuelling stops as it travelled east. The plane departed the town of Dryden, Ontario, on Friday, 29 April evening and was due to land in the town of Marathon, roughly 700 kilometres away.
Officials have not yet said if they know where the plane was headed after its stop in Marathon, but the Ontario provincial police say they are conducting a criminal investigation into the flight and the possible links between passengers.