British Columbia

Family of pilot killed in Gabriola Island crash says it is 'absolutely devastated'

Alex Bahlsen was captivated by the world's beauty when up in the air and loved to share his joy of flying, his family wrote in a statement.

Alex Bahlsen's wife and 2 kids released their first public statement since he died Tuesday

Bahlsen was a 'fun-loving, big-hearted, down-to-earth' man who taught skiing, rode skeleton bobsleds and hang glided, his family said. (Submitted by Lorraine Hjalte)

Alex Bahlsen was captivated by the world's beauty when up in the air and loved to share his joy of flying.

The 62-year-old's outlook on life was "it's always sunny above the clouds," his family said Friday in its first public statement since Bahlsen died Tuesday night in a plane crash on Gabriola Island. (Previous media reports have identified Bahlsen as 61.)

Bahlsen was piloting his Piper Aerostar, a twin-engine propeller aircraft, from Mexico to Canada when it crashed on the island, just east of Nanaimo, B.C.

Three people died in the crash, according to a preliminary report by Nav Canada. The two passengers were a man and woman, said the B.C. Coroners Service. The agency is working on confirming their identities but says it will not release any names due to privacy.

"We, as a family, are absolutely devastated," wrote Bahlsen's family, including his wife, Liz, and two children, Alexandra and Taryn. "We knew this day could come. However, Alex always had a way of making us feel like it never would."

The scene of a small plane crash on Gabriola Island, B.C., is shown on Wednesday, Dec.11, 2019. A plane that one witness describes as crashing in a "huge explosion" that left multiple people dead in British Columbia was identified as a twin-engine propeller aircraft. (Paolo Gastaldello/The Canadian Press)

'Big-hearted, down-to-earth'

Bahlsen was born in Germany and moved to Canada to study at the University of Calgary. His native country influenced his humour. A joke that didn't quite translate to English would prompt him to explain German expressions.

He was the grandson of Hermann Bahlsen, the founder of a German baked-goods empire famous for its Leibniz brand of biscuits.

Bahlsen was a "fun-loving, big-hearted, down-to-earth" man who taught skiing, rode skeleton bobsleds and went hang gliding, his family said.

But his true passion was flying.

He taught students from all over the world and offered his home to those who needed a place to stay. He also flew animals from rescue organizations between Canada and the United States and took some in foster care.

Bahlsen knew how to fix things, whether it was a scratched knee, a computer that wouldn't start or a home repair, his family said.

Bahlsen and his wife split their time between Mill Bay, B.C., and their air ranch south of Calgary. But his friends and family said they felt like he was always just a "short flight away."

A celebration of life for Bahlsen will be held at the Bomber Command Museum of Canada in Nanton, Alta., on Dec. 20 at 1 p.m. MT.

Instead of flowers, the family will set up a memorial fund in Bahlsen's name so "others can share his passion of flying."

With files from Yvette Brend

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