Pilot killed in B.C. plane crash 'an amazing guy'

The pilot killed in a plane crash in Richmond, B.C., on Thursday was a "fantastic" father and husband, his family said Saturday.

Family of Luc Fortin thanks Good Samaritans

The family has set up a trust fund for Luc Fortin's 16-month-old daughter, Katelyn. (CBC)

The pilot killed in a plane crash in Richmond, B.C., on Thursday was a "fantastic" father and husband, his family said Saturday.

Luc Fortin, 44, was injured when the small plane he was flying crashed near Vancouver's airport. He died in hospital five hours later with family by his side.

All nine people aboard were pulled alive from the fiery wreckage as Good Samaritans leaped from their cars during rush hour to help. Several passengers remain in hospital.

We just thank everybody and Katelyn's dad will be missed a lot. He was a good man.

Speaking at a news conference on Saturday, his widow Dagne Fortin spoke briefly to reporters.

"We just thank everybody and Katelyn's dad will be missed a lot. He was a good man," she said.

Fortin's father-in-law John Rayson said the pilot was a family man who loved his 16-month-old daughter Katelyn.

"Luc was an amazing guy and he's an amazing addition to our family and of course a very skilled pilot and a great person," Rayson said. "He was a fantastic father, husband, son and son-in-law."

'Selfless efforts'

Rayson said it's been a very difficult time for the entire family, but he offered words of gratitude to those who tried to help.

"Our family would like to thank the selfless efforts and heroic actions of the Good Samaritans and all the first responders who came to the aid of the passengers and crew of that aircraft," he said.

Rayson also thanked the doctors and staff at Vancouver General Hospital, who he said did everything they could to save Fortin.

"Luc will be sorely missed by his daughter and wife, and by the whole family. We love you, Luc."

In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that donations be sent to a trust fund for Fortin's daughter, or to the charity of their choice in Fortin's name.

'We were extremely fortunate'

In another development, the general manager of the B.C. airline that owned the plane said Saturday the accident's only saving grace was the bustling urban street where it occurred.

Luc will be sorely missed by his daughter and wife, and by the whole family. We love you, Luc.

Bill Hesse of Prince George-based Northern Thunderbird Air said the location allowed a quick response to Thursday's crash.

"We're so thankful for the bystanders that rushed into this burning aircraft and helped evacuate people out of there, some with grave injuries," Hesse said.

"If it wasn't for those folks and the fact there was a fire hall half a block away — my goodness, I shudder to think … In this case we were extremely fortunate."

Two people remain in critical condition, including one who had spinal surgery on Friday, while four people were in stable but serious condition, Vancouver Coastal Health said. Two have been discharged.

Hesse called Fortin, who joined the company in 2007, an easy-going man who was very professional. The veteran pilot had logged about 14,000 hours in the cockpit.

'Knowledgeable pilot'

"Prior to coming to us, he flew essentially throughout the world — both poles, the Indian Ocean, ferrying aircraft across Africa," he said. "He was a very experienced, knowledgeable pilot."

And that's why the failed landing, which also clipped a car and lamppost as it came down and injured two people less seriously, is such a mystery right now, Hesse said.

"With the amount of data — radar coverage and voice recordings between air traffic control and the pilot, the cockpit voice recorder and the sheer number of eye witnesses — I think it really bodes well for us getting a decent answer on this tragedy," he said.

Investigators are now trying to determine what caused a caution light to flicker in the cockpit midway through the flight, which persuaded Fortin to turn the Kelowna-bound plane back to Vancouver.

The Transportation Safety Board has said the plane went down after getting clearance to return for landing. It had departed at 3:40 p.m. PT.

In a recording of air-traffic control communications, Fortin sounds calm as the plane swings around and charts its reverse course. He tells a controller he doesn't need any emergency equipment or help.

Flight chartered by single group

The Beechcraft King Air 100 was built in the 1970s, which is not an unusual vintage, Hesse said. It got regular maintenance.

The flight was an ad-hoc charter booked by a single group of people, he said. He wouldn't reveal any information about their identities or the purpose of the flight, other than to say they were new clients.

He said the co-pilot, Matt Robic, 26, suffered burns to his body but his condition had  stabilized in hospital.

Hesse, who is based at the company's Prince George headquarters — Fortin worked from its Vancouver office — said the company has a 40-year history but has been owned by the current group since 1999.

He said the only other major mishap he recalls occurred in 2005. Two pilots died in a crash near Squamish, north of Vancouver. A TSB report characterized the cause as inconclusive.

B.C. Solicitor General Shirley Bond said Fortin's final manoeuvres prevented a potential catastrophe, and she called the passersby who rushed in to help heroes.

"By all accounts, your actions helped to lessen injuries and may well have saved lives," she said in a statement.

A plane burns on a city street in Richmond, B.C., nearly one kilometre from the Vancouver airport runway. (Submitted by Nikolai Jensen)

With files from The Canadian Press