Search and rescue officials say six people are missing, including an infant, after a float plane crashed Sunday afternoon in the Southern Gulf Islands. A female passenger and the pilot were rescued.

Lt. Paul Pendergast of the Victoria Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre told CBC News that divers were searching for the missing six in Lyall Harbour off Saturna Island on Sunday evening. Dozens of search-and-rescue members were conducting the search in the water and from the air. But the aircraft has not been located, he said.

Saturna Island, B.C.


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The centre's Cpl. Saralynn Hickey said the crash happened at 4:10 p.m. PT in Lyall Harbour. The cause of the crash was unclear, officials said.

Condition of survivors unknown

The two rescued people were airlifted to Victoria General Hospital but their conditions have not been disclosed, Pendergast said.

He said the search efforts continue even in darkness with several surface vessels and two aircraft, including a Cormorant helicopter. Search efforts were expected to be suspended later Sunday and resume Monday morning, Pendergast said.

Richmond, B.C.-based Seair Seaplanes Ltd. confirmed its de Havilland Beaver plane crashed. The plane was making a scheduled stop at Saturna to pick up passengers on the way to Vancouver.

Company spokeswoman Christy Clarke couldn't confirm whether the plane was carrying seven or eight people. There were conflicting eyewitness reports that the plane either crashed after takeoff or crashed as it was landing, which would affect the number of passengers who would have either boarded or disembarked, she said.

But the centre's Pendergast confirmed Sunday evening that in total eight, including a baby, were on the plane. The information was relayed to him by a medical technician who was with the pilot, he said.   

'A bit of a flash'

Michael Vautour, who works at the BC Ferries terminal at Lyall Harbour, told CBC News the flight left at 4 p.m. PT.

"I noticed a bit of a flash and that's what made me look out the window and as I looked out I saw [the plane's] nose diving into the water," he said.

"The tail stayed up for four or five minutes and during that time a couple of locals ran down to our government dock, boarded their boats and zoomed out to see if they could help anyone and by the time they got there, the tail had gone under water."

Vautour said the boaters pulled one woman from the water.

Allen Olsen, 62, was in the pub at Lyall Harbour when the crash occurred. He set out on his boat to help.

"I thought we would run out there in our boats and rescue people off of pontoons or something, and the plane was gone."

Olsen said the two boats that arrived at the scene first pulled the pilot and a woman out of the water with some difficulty. 

He said the pilot was talking to rescuers, but both survivors were in bad shape after being pulled from the water.

"The pilot was in a lot of pain. He was in the water and he was screaming and moaning. He was conscious but he was in a lot of pain," Olsen told The Canadian Press in a telephone interview.

Olsen said two residents of Saturna Island were among the missing. He declined to identify them but said they had been at the pub prior to boarding the plane, watching the Grey Cup game.

Saturna Island is located at the eastern edge of the Gulf Islands, more than 50 kilometres south of Vancouver.

Last year, there were two fatal float plane crashes off B.C.'s coast. In August 2008, five people died when a Pacific Coastal Airlines Grumman Goose crashed on Vancouver Island.

In November 2008, one man survived a crash that killed seven others on Thormanby Island, located between the B.C. mainland and northern Vancouver Island.

With files from The Canadian Press