A survivor of a Vancouver Island float plane crash that killed two of six people aboard didn't think the plane was going to go down, even when he saw a tree looming ahead.

John Young was leading a trip for the Alpine Club of Canada when the group's chartered flight to Gold River went down shortly after take-off near Hesquiat Lake on Friday morning .

In an interview  from a hospital on Vancouver Island with CBC Radio's B.C. Almanac, Young told Mark Forsythe he wasn't worried when he saw a tree appear in his view. Sitting in the co-pilot's seat, he thought the pilot would veer up and over the top of the trees.

'We're going down'

"But I guess the wing caught and we started to go down, and I still thought he'd get us out of it, but then he called 'Mayday, we're going down,'" said Young, who suffered broken bones and third-degree burns on a shin. 

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Crash survivor John Young said he thought he was going burn to death. (Courtesy of John Young)

After the plane slammed into the trees, Young said, he saw flames and realized his hair was on fire. He extinguished those flames, and then noticed a hand reaching from behind him in an attempt to set off an alarm button on the dash of the plane.

But the hand soon stopped moving, and Young realized it must have belonged to fellow hiker Charles Turner.

Turner, a Comox, B.C., resident, died, as did the plane's pilot, who has not been named.

Young doesn't recall all the details, but thinks he must have been thrown over the pilot in the crash.

With his feet jammed between his seat and the front of the plane, Young stuck his hand out the window.

'I had visions of burning to death.'

— Crash survivor John Young

"I pulled and pulled and couldn't get my feet loose and the fire was getting stronger. … I had visions of burning to death," Young said.

He freed himself from the burning de Havilland Beaver wreckage by wriggling his feet out of his hiking boots.

After he pulled himself from the plane, Young said, he heard screams from a woman in the group who was trapped under the wreckage. "I thought maybe I can get part of this plane loose, and I pulled her out," Young said.

Then he turned his attention to the pilot who was beside the woman he had just rescued.

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Charles Turner, an avid hiker and mountaineer from Comox, B.C., died in the crash. (Family photo)

"He was reaching out, and I grabbed both his arms and pulled and got him out some," Young recalled.

Despite his attempt to lever up part of the plane, he wasn't able to pull the pilot from the aircraft.

"He died in front of me," Young said.

Two other members of the hiking party, whose injuries were less severe, set up lean-tos to shelter Young and the badly burned woman, and tried to keep them dry and warm while they waited for rescuers to arrive.

More than four hours after the plane crashed, rescuers found them. Young called it the happiest moment of his life.

Young said he was not close friends with Turner, but had got to know him while doing three climbs with him.

"When you do a climb with someone, and you're depending on each other for life on a rope, you form a pretty strong bond," Young. "He was an awesome person."

TSB investigators reach wreckage

Crash investigators got their first look today at the wreckage of the plane operated by Air Nootka.

Bill Yearwood, of the Transportation Safety Board, said the first thing the TSB would be doing is surveying the site from the air, in a helicopter.

"They'll be looking at the tree scars to indicate at what angle the aircraft approached its final resting spot … and also at the ground at the bottom of the trees," said Bill Yearwood of the Transportation Safety Board.

Poor weather had prevented investigators from accessing the crash site, which is in a forested area near Hesquiat Lake, roughly 250 kilometres northwest of Victoria.

Small aircraft such as the Beaver involved in Friday's crash don't have flight-data recorders,Yearwood said, and investigators have not yet interviewed the survivors.

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Wreckage of a Nootka Air float plane is visible from the air above a steep treed slope on the Hesquiat Peninsula. The aircraft crashed minutes after takeoff Friday. (CBC)


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With files from The Canadian Press