Calgary

Victims identified in plane crash that killed 2 MRU aviation instructors near Calgary

Jeffrey Bird and Reynold Johnson were piloting a twin-engine Tecnam that went down near Waiparous

Jeffrey Bird and Reynold Johnson pilots MRU

Mount Royal University aviation instructors Jeffrey Bird, left, and Reynold Johnson, were killed in a plane crash near Waiparous on Monday. (Facebook/Mount Royal University)

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The two Mount Royal University aviation instructors killed in a plane crash northwest of Calgary in the Waiparous area have been identified as Jeffrey Bird and Reynold Johnson.

Bird was formerly a pilot instructor with the Royal Canadian Air Force, stationed in Moose Jaw, Sask., said MRU president David Docherty, and before that, a helicopter pilot with the 408 Squadron in Edmonton.

Johnson had more than 30 years experience as a pilot. 

"Today has been an extremely difficult day,"  Docherty told reporters, choking back tears. "It is very, very, tragic because these are individuals who, flying is their life and they wanted to teach others to fly and fulfil their dreams."

'He truly made a difference'

Bird was married and joined the MRU aviation program in January, according to his LinkedIn profile. ​

He was "a well-liked instructor pilot, who was known by all for his unwavering positivity and kindness," said Lt.-Col. Brian Dunsterville, acting wing commander of 15 Wing Moose Jaw, in a statement. 

"He was an extremely committed and valued Royal Canadian Air Force pilot and officer, who selflessly served in Afghanistan as a helicopter pilot," said Dunsterville. "During his posting to 15 Wing Moose Jaw, he truly made a difference in the lives of his students, as a devoted, professional and kind instructor pilot."

Mount Royal University plane crash scene

Part of the wreckage of the twin-engine Tecnam, owned by Mount Royal University, which crashed northwest of Calgary, killing the two flight instructors on board. (CBC)

In a statement through MRU, family members said Johnson moved to Calgary with his wife, Brenda, in 1985, so he could work at Jordan Flight Training.

He was there until 1988, when he was hired as a first officer at Time Air, remaining with that company as a captain —through various corporate changes to Canadian Regional Airlines and Jazz Airlines — before retiring in 2015.

Johnson joined MRU in September 2016 and had logged over 20,000 flight hours in 15 different types of airplanes in his career.

The men were piloting a twin-engine Tecnam owned by the university when it went down in the Waiparous area, roughly 100 kilometres northwest of Calgary, just before 6 p.m. Monday.

It was being flown in the usual flight path by the two experienced faculty members, Docherty said.

'Program will continue'

"The program will continue," said Docherty. "What we will do is make sure the students and instructors will get back in the planes when the students and instructors are ready to fly. We've cancelled classes until the end of the week and the planes have been grounded until at least the end of the week, until we're better able to assess when people are able to get back." 

The Tecnam was one of three twin-engine aircraft owned by Mount Royal. It also has five single-engine Cessna 172s in its fleet, which operates out of Springbank Airport west of Calgary.

flags mru

Flags at Mount Royal University were lowered to half mast Tuesday as the school mourns the loss of two flight instructors. (Allison Dempster/CBC)

RCMP were first alerted about the crash by the crew of another plane. The plane was located near the junction of Highway 40 and Highway 579, said Cpl. Curtis Peters. 

'They become like family' 

Luc Sinal, president of the aviation students' association, said Bird and Johnson were extraordinary teachers and he offered his condolences to their families.

"These instructors helped [us] discover the love of flying," he said.  

He said the aviation program at MRU is a tight-knit group, with about 60 students working with just 12 instructors.

"They become like family to us," he said. 

mru aviation student leader Luke Sinal

Luc Sinal, who head the aviation students' organization, said the students are deeply saddened by the loss of their two flight instructors. (CBC)

Transportation Safety Board (TSB) officials have begun to investigate the cause of the crash. Docherty said the school will cooperate and offer any assistance it can. 

Investigators arrived at the crash site Tuesday to take pictures and measurements before moving the wreckage to Edmonton, where it will be examined, said TSB western regional manager Jon Lee.

Officials are also arranging to retrieve radar information from Nav Canada. "That will show, hopefully, what the aircraft was doing in terms of its speed, altitude and position," Lee said.

He noted twin-engine aircraft like the one that crashed are not required to have flight data recorders or cockpit voice recorders.

"But, in this day and age with the advances in electronics and avionics … there are lots of devices that could be in that aircraft that could record a lot of information," Lee said.

Mount Royal's aviation program to train commercial pilots began in 1970.

plane crash map mru

The plane crashed near the junction of Highway 40 and Highway 579. (Google Maps )

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