Three people were onboard the small plane that crashed on Gabriola Island earlier this week, Transport Canada has confirmed.
According to a preliminary information bulletin posted on the department’s website, three people were killed when a Piper PA-60-602P Aerostar plunged into a wooded glen on Gabriola in the evening hours of Dec. 10.
The update notes that the plane was nearing the Nanaimo Airport when it reported an “equipment issue” and then deviated from its approach and ultimately dropped off radar. The twin-engine plane was arriving from Eastern Sierra Regional Airport in Bishop, Calif.
The Transportation Safety Board released an update Friday evening notifying that it has completed its work at the crash site.
“Investigators spent three days documenting the aircraft, interviewing witnesses, and collecting data. The wreckage has been removed from the site and will be securely stored for further analysis over the coming days and weeks,” the update noted.
The TSB will now work to classify the accident, which will determine the scope of the investigation to follow.
B.C. Coroners Service confirmed three people died in the plane crash in a news release issued Friday afternoon. Although the identities of the victims were not disclosed, the news release notes that a man from Mill Bay, B.C., “and two other decedents, one male and one female” were onboard the aircraft.
The Mill Bay man was Alex Bahlsen, 62, a member of the Nanaimo Flying Club.
In a statement released to media, the Bahlsen family said it is “absolutely devastated” about the news and described Alex as a loving husband, father, and grandfather who was “just a short flight away.”
“We knew this day could come; however, Alex always had a way of making us feel like it never would,” the family said.
They said flying was Alex’s true passion.
Alex was taken from us while he was doing something he loved,” they said. “He never hesitated to share the joy of flying with others and the beauty from the air that captivated him. Alex believed that ‘it’s always sunny above the clouds.’”
A celebration of life for Bahlsen will be held at the Bomber Command Museum of Canada located in Nanton, Alta. on Dec. 20. A memorial fund will be established in his name “so others can share in his passion of flying” according to the family.
On Wednesday, the Nanaimo Flying Club posted a statement on Facebook paying tribute to Bahlsen and describing him as a “amazing pilot, mentor and friend” with unwavering professionalism.
Benjamin Werbski, vice-president of the Nanaimo Flying Club, told the News Bulletin that Bahlsen was a great person and leader, was highly respected, and will be remembered by the flying club as “really positive and a nice guy.”
“Everybody knew his plane,” Werbski said.
He said Bahlsen’s death has hit the club hard.
“It’s very sad when something like this happens,” he said. “It affects the entire community and the general aviation community.”
While Bahlsen’s death has impacted the flying club, Werbski said pilots of all ages are well aware of the risks associated with flying.
“Unfortunately, these things happen and they happen more frequently than you want to see…” he said. “It’s a sad thing to have occurred but once the TSB gets down to the root of the problem, we all learn from it. You have to.”
Werbski said the Nanaimo Flying Club will do something in Bahlsen’s honour in the near future.