Aviation enthusiasts went through a host of emotions following a crash at the Wings and Wheels air show at Nanaimo Airport.
Hundreds of people gathered under sunny skies Saturday for the air show when they witnessed a self-built biplane, piloted by Dr. Bill Phipps, 71, of Campbell River, crash into a grassy section off the east side of the tarmac.
Phipps’s performance was the opening of the show and he was six minutes into an eight-minute routine.
Ray White and his brother, both of Nanaimo, had front-row seats for the show and watched Phipps fly his plane past the crowd.
“He was supposed to do a four-point roll and while we’re certainly not aviation experts by any stretch of the imagination, we both thought he was a little low for that particular manoeuvre,” said White. “As he was coming down the runway, he started to turn away instead of flying the crowd line and I said to my brother ‘he’s going down’.”
White said the aircraft was tail-on to the crowd and nearly upright when it flew into the ground.
“I didn’t hear any change in engine power and it was a very gentle descent into the ground,” he said. “The crowd was very upset but there was a huge round of applause when they announced he had survived.”
Kristie Eccleston said she thought the plane was close to the ground to be doing flips and twists, but thought the plane’s actions were part of the show right up until the crash.
“It didn’t nose dive into the ground, it just flew into ground,” she said. “Everyone was horrified. It was tough to see the expression on the children’s faces. That was definitely the worst.”
B.C. Ambulance and Cranberry Fire and Rescue personnel were on scene and removed Phipps from the wreckage.
He suffered significant facial and internal injuries as well as broken bones and was airlifted to Victoria General Hospital, where he was in stable condition Monday morning.
Sara Hof, Transport Canada spokeswoman, said in an e-mail that a Transport Canada inspector was on the scene to monitor the air show and will follow up with the pilot once he is able to speak to them.
The inspector will also meet with air show organizers to assess safety procedures.
The Nanaimo Flying Club hosted the event and president Barbara Riddy said the pilot had just undergone a medical exam before the show and was in peak condition before taking to the sky.
“For them to perform, they have to produce a valid medical certificate, and the medicals that Transport Canada gives you are quite rigorous,” she said.
Riddy said the pilot is an experienced, well-known performer whose airmanship is second to none, and age would not have played a factor in Saturday’s crash.
“He’s a rock-solid performer,” she said.
The air show was cancelled following the crash and Riddy said the spectators were patient and understanding during the ordeal.
“The public was super,” she said. “There was nobody that went beyond the barriers, they all listened and were understanding when the show was cancelled.”