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 in his 60s 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.
Benjamin Werbski, vice-president of the Nanaimo Flying Club, told the News Bulletin that based on the information provided by the TSB, he’s no longer surprised that the plane flew near Gabriola Island.
“You’re flying over Gabriola to set up for an ILS or instrument landing system approach, which is for instrument flight rules. That’s what Air Canada does and what WestJet does…” he said. “As long as you’re following your instruments and you got your heading right you should be landing, but if he was wandering around that way then he might not have been able to find direction.”
According to Werbski, Bahlsen had complained about the autopilot in his plane wasn’t working properly. He also said the foggy and cloudy conditions on the night of the crash wouldn’t have been helpful.
“When you come through fog or low cloud like that it can actually get really distracting. We tend to turn off our beacons when we are flying through clouds because that strobe light ends up bouncing off the clouds and it will do some weird things to your mind.”
Werbski said he can only speculate what the cause of the accident was, but said there is likely more than one single event or factor that contributed to the crash.
“There are a lot of minor things that can accumulate into something catastrophic,” Werbski said. “This had catastrophic failure coupled with the inability to fly through the bad weather.”